At the roots of roleplaying

Started by rgrassi, June 23, 2009, 10:43:34 AM

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Hi all... I'd need to have feedback about this.
My opinion is that, at the roots of roleplaying are the following statements:
1) The players desire that something happens (as imagined by them) into the (shared) imagined space.
2) The players "enunciate" something to obtain (1).
3) There's a mechanism to decide upon (2)

The 2) refers to what the players explicitly says.
Am I on the wrong path?
Levity d6 - Interactive Storytelling and Roleplaying System

Adam Dray

I think you're on the right path, though I can pick nits.

You might do some reading about the Lumpley Principle ("the system is how stuff gets into the fiction") and also check out Vincent Baker's (aka Lumpley) blog posts about how stuff gets into the fiction / SIS.

Here's how I'd put it:

1) Each player is imagining what's going on in her own head and making plans.
2) The players communicate about what they want to happen in the fiction (SIS).
3) There's some kind of negotiation, often subtle, sometimes using game mechanics or dice about what actually happens in the fiction.
4) The players update their own imaginations with what they think was agreed.
5) Repeat until tired.

Adam Dray /
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at 7777


Going to have a look at Vincent's blog.
Anyway, I'll foolw this path with you, with some claim.
Agree with your 5 step process (maybe too much words in there but it's acceptable, for the moment) :D.

Quote1) Each player is imagining what's going on in her own head and making plans.

At this time the only thing we have is a "Personal Imagined Space". There's no sharing. It's like a chalk board. I think this element should be included somewhere in the model.

Quote2) The players communicate about what they want to happen in the fiction (SIS).

This step must be split in two according to what the players actually says.
2a) This may be the time for social negotiation and veto powers for things that "cannot happen" or players don't like to heard. This sub phase acts as a shield to preserve the SIS.
2b) For things that may happen and/or are estetically accepted by the group conflicts (in the sense of opposing interests between players and/or characters and/or other fiction elements, note conflict definition here is more in the narrative meaning of conflict) may arise. When this happens, the proposed 'move' lays in an "Unvalidated Imaginary Space".

Quote3) There's some kind of negotiation, often subtle, sometimes using game mechanics or dice about what actually happens in the fiction.

This phase validates the 2b and converts the 'move' into a fictional element in the SIS.

Quote4) The players update their own imaginations with what they think was agreed.

Correct. Unvalidated Imaginary Space is empty. Personal Imaginary Space starts to work again.

Quote5) Repeat until tired.

Or until the game has an end status... :)
Levity d6 - Interactive Storytelling and Roleplaying System

Adam Dray

Take a look at an old blog post of mine about a way of looking at this stuff. I haven't reviewed it lately to see if I still believe all that 100%, though, so some disclaimers apply.

For your 2a), realize that the player doesn't have to say anything out loud. A player could raise an eyebrow, shake his head, point to a miniature, point to a stat on the character sheet, or just not say anything at all (silence is complicity).

I don't think the SIS really needs protecting, either, but I'm curious if you have an actual play example that illustrates what you mean. I find that the SIS is pretty damned resilient in actual play. Players work around problems with cooperation and renegotiation with little trouble.

For your 2b), I don't think you need any kind of special category for them. This is just stuff that never made it from a player's head into the socially accepted fiction.

GM: The mailman flashes his baby-blue eyes at you.
Player: No he doesn't. You said he has brown eyes last game.
GM: Right, brown. Sorry.

"Baby-blue eyes" doesn't go into a special "unvalidated imaginary space." It just isn't true. It isn't accepted into the SIS.

2b) would have to come after 3), anyway, since until 3) happens, there's no discussion or group assent or dissent. I imagine 2) as the arrow coming out of player's heads into the social space and 3) as the arrow going from the social space into the SIS.

[player's heads] ------communication------> [social space] ------negotiation------> [SIS]

Note that [social space] isn't anything real. It's a placeholder for a condition/event when the stuff in player's heads is being shared with other people.

Re: 4), I wouldn't make the steps so sequential. This stuff is changing constantly in the player's heads, in the social space, and (at discrete moments) in the SIS. Sure, it helps to simplify things in examples to one step happening after another, but the reality is more complex than that.

Where are you going with this? I think it would benefit from some actual play examples. Maybe post some actual play in the appropriate forum and break down some illustrative moments using your system and make sure you understand how the play really works?
Adam Dray /
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at 7777

M. Burrell

Now, I'm a little new at RPG theory, so you'll forgive me if I make unassuming assumptions and the like.
It strikes me that the Shared Imagined Space (SIS) is taken as an unchallenged given in many of your assertions; that a shared imagined space exists at all is beyond question. Now, I know this isn't the case for all and you really must take the following as unschooled opinion:

I have to propositions to probe the roots of roleplaying:
1. Shared Imaginative Spaces do not exist.
2. Imagination is not the central aspect of Roleplaying Games.

The first point is, initially, fairly simple. There is no way to collectively experience the same imaginative vision (or any internal mental process), thus any notion of a shared space is actually delusion; each contributing member of a role-playing group updates his strictly personal imaginative vision of the discussed goings on and then makes futher contribution from this updated vision, imbuing a sense of progressing shared experience and narrative.

The quality of role-play and the clarity of imaginative vision, I hold, are judged by two factors: Emphasis and Empathy. A player or author must emphasise certain crucial aspects of his imaginative vision when expressing it to other persons (it would be impossible to describe in language every nuance of the internally perceived), often using archetypal descriptors to attempt to engage the other's imaginative vision. Mentioning a 'brick wall' essentially means that the other must construct this wall in his vision out of what he considers the archetype of a brick wall. Adding further descriptors means that the wall becomes more vivid and, perhaps, closer to how you perceive it - but they can never be perfectly shared. As describer you must try draw on the other's imaginative Empathy: his willingness to be imaginatively suggestible and his assumptions to how, in this example, a 'wall' might be perceived.

  A extreme example might be playing a game with a man from China. You announce that a dragon has appeared and, without any other descriptors, the other draws on his culturally-inspired archetype of the Chinese-style dragon whereas you perceived something more European. Emphasis (in this case, further descriptors) is needed to draw that vision closer to the oneness SIS suggests. SIS is the perfect form of shared imaginative experience, but, being perfect, it cannot exist.

I find that a shared imaginative experience is not the motivational factor, nor the crux of Role-playing Games. It's important, I'll grant you, but a desire for SIS is not why we play! Entertainment is the central percept with Creativity and Social-Interaction being the supporting pillars. These tenements are, for me, the true roots of role-playing and imagination is but the tool to assist the gamer. My conviction: a largely enjoyable and workable experience can be shared by all participants without strictly coherent imaginative imagery.

Adam Dray

There are respected people in the game designer community who indeed believe that the SIS isn't as important as what goes on in people's individual imaginations. I don't know of anyone else who believes there's no such thing as the SIS, though.

When I talk about the SIS (and when others do, I presume), we don't mean a perfect shared understanding of each other's imaginations. We mean that we have enough of a common understanding to play a game. Hence, the existence of the SIS is not a controversial thing. When a disagreement about the SIS arises, the players must resolve that disagreement to continue play. Players will always have different understandings, but those disagreements will not always arise in play.

Take your dragon example. Somehow, despite everyone having different ideas about what the dragon looks like, people can continue playing. It's not until the man from China makes a big deal about grabbing onto the dragon's very long tail that some other player might go, "Wait, what?" If that detail causes a disagreement about the SIS, they have to resolve it right there and then.

Your thesis about the SIS not being the crux of play or why we play... where did that come from? I don't think either Rich or I put that on the table. I will, however, point out that it's dangerous to talk about why people play since people play for all sorts of reasons. I suspect you'll find people who will argue that they do indeed play mostly for the shared fiction. I suspect you'll find a couple people who will argue that entertainment is not the main reason they play. For now, stick to what motivates you and talk about that.

Adam Dray /
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at 7777

Ron Edwards


Let's get at least one reference to an actual play-experience into this discussion. I am not saying it is to be used as evidence or indeed in any way at all except in terms of clarity regarding how it went. Rob, can you help us with that?

Best, Ron

Moreno R.

This thread is characterized, until now, by a distinct lack of actual play examples. I can only lead to confusion and going around and around...

I know Roberto and we discussed about these things a lot in Italian forums, so I did not repeat these discussions here, but I would like to address some things in the replies he received.

@M Burrell:
It's important to understand if you are talking about the Shared ImaginED Space of Forge Theory (that is a rather distinct and unique concept in roleplaying theory, one of the things that differentiate the Big Model from almost every other theory about rpgs before and after), and  what many other theories (and people who misunderstand Forge Theory) call "Shared ImaginaRY Space"  (this confusion is even compounded by the recent common habit of using Shared ImaginED space for everything, without acknowledging the difference)

The important part in the SIS of Forge Theory is that it's SHARED, not that it's imagined.

The sequence is: someone, at the table, imagine something. Think about something. Plan something. Come up with something. And then SHARE this imagined thing with the group, using some form of language (talking and gestures at the table, posting in play-by-forums, etc.). After that thing is shared _and accepted_ (it depends on the game system how that happen in a specific game), it become a concrete, observable element of play, that has nothing "imaginary" about it anymore.

This is very, very different from the nebulous "intersection of the imaginations of the players" that other theories (and common rpg forums discussions) presents. I agree with you that this second thing doesn't really exist. But it has nothing to do with the SIS of Forge Theory. When someone in Dogs in the Vineyard imagine that his character, as fallout for a gun wound, take a deep hatred for another character, he does "add this to the SIS" by writing the new relationship on the character sheet. Even if the emotion he imagine is different from the emotion than the one other people at the table imagine, it's added to the SIS anyway. It was imagined ("hey, what If my character begin to hate that one?") and then shared ("hey, people, I think I will choose a new relationship as fallout") and accepted (nobody veto it) and it become a concrete, observable element of the game.

From the Provisional Summary:
Shared Imagined Space (SIS, Shared Imagination)

    The fictional content of play as it is established among participants through role-playing interactions. See also Transcript (which is a summary of the SIS after play) and Exploration (a near or total synonym).

Compare with the definition of Shared Imaginary Space of the Process Model:
"The facts, expectations and hopes about the imagined reality being explored, as experienced by an individual, define a conceptual space referred to as the Imagined Space. When role-playing in a group, the Imagined Spaces of the individual participants overlap to create a Shared Imagined Space (SIS) with regards to which the majority of interaction pertaining to the game is enacted. "

As you see, this newer model use "Shared ImaginED Space" (compounding the confusion: at least previous theories usually used "Shared ImaginaRY Space...): not only that, but in the process Model literature, the authors said that "The term Shared Imagined Space originates from discussions at the Forge" without acknowledging the substantial difference between the two concept (something that make my suspect that they really misunderstood Forge Theory and did not see the difference)

It would really, really better if people stopped using the exact same terms for very different things and concepts, but seeing that I don't see any way to force them to do so, in these discussion it' better to precise the gaming theory one is using, and use a lot of actual play examples to avoid these misunderstandings.

[edit: while I was writing this post, Adam and Ron added to the discussion, making the part in this post about actual play examples a repetition of what they already said. But it's so important that I did choose to not change my post: some advice is worth repeating]

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)

Ron Edwards

Moreno, your post is excellent and I'm happy to have it work with mine in a team effort.

Here are a few points of clarification.

The term "shared imaginary space" is not under discussion. This is not part of the discourse. Its use by anyone you encounter out there in internet-land, if they are referencing the Forge, is an instant giveaway of poor understanding, solid understanding but carelessness, or obfuscation.

The term is "shared imagined space," with imagined being a participle, not an adjective. In other words, the imagining is an act, a verb, and we're doing it together (shared). Since none of us are telepaths, the only part being discussed is the part which is literally shared, i.e., spoken or otherwise communicated (as Adam rightly says, including body language).

Rob, I'm thinking it's important to acknowledge that your #1 and #2 are often not sequential, but harmonic. I'm liking that idea a lot the more I think about it. Does that make sense to you?

M., there is no merit, point, or insight gained from talking about the individuality of the imaginative experience - if what we are talking about is an SIS. I'm not saying that individual experience doesn't exist, or isn't important, or isn't even a priority (Ralph Mazza says it is the priority for him; I think Mike Holmes has said so as well in the past). All of that happens and is fine. But it isn't a problem or a challenge to discussing the SIS.

Because as long as I say "I keep running and hurdle the barrier!" and in this particular game, we know that means a die roll, and we conduct the die roll, I fail the Jumping skill, and you as GM say I can't get over the barrier and fall back, and I say, "I turn to face the orcs, drawing my sword ..."

... then that's the shared imagined space right there. It is composed of the talking that we did. We were talking about imagined stuff happening. It happened and continued to happen without degenerating into missed communication and conflicting imagery. Adam's right that this isn't controversial; it's observably and necessarily the core medium for role-playing.

Best, Ron


There's a lot of stuff here that has been added to the original post, it's difficult to reply. Anyway I'll try to get back to the original 'spirit of the post'.

Let's take for a while the SIS existence out of this thread.

I really liked your "social model" of RPG. It's near to my way of description and modelization of role playing.

@Back on topic.
With some example.
1) Each player is imagining what's going on in her own head and making plans.

"Maybe there's a secret door under the carpet. When my turn will come I'll check under the carpet."
"When my turn will come I'll stab a knife in the back of the character in front of me".
All of this takes place in a "Personal Imagined Space" which is private, in which many possible events and outcomes are evaluated by the single player.

2) The players communicate about what they want to happen in the fiction (SIS).

"I check under the carpet." or
"I check under the carpet to find a secret door." or
"I search for a secret door."
This is the moment in which the player proposes events that may enter in the SIS.
I identified a (2a) as the first check of coherence/aestetic which stands for...
"I check under the carpet."
"Which carpet? The room is bare."

and a (2b) as the second check to accept the proposed event into a "Unvalidated Imagined Space" (which is, the Space in which the moves under evaluation are allocated).
"I check under the carpet to find a secret door."
"Mmm... It could be. Let's have a check."

I'm not interested at the moment to have a list of ways how 2a and 2b are solved by different games.

3) There's some kind of negotiation, often subtle, sometimes using game mechanics or dice about what actually happens in the fiction.

This is pretty clear.
"I check under the carpet to find a secret door."
"Mmm... It could be. Let's have a check."
Check done.
"Ok, you look under the carpet and find a secret door."

The move under judgement is validated and the event moves from "Unvalidated Imagined Space" to "Shared Imagined Space".

4) The players update their own imaginations with what they think was agreed.

This means that a new "Personal Imagined Space" is derived from what we've agreed in the "Shared Imagined Space".
"Tom's character has found a secret door under the carpet.
One player imagines it has a mahogany door. Another one thinks of it has gold door. These things are not "shared". Only what is explicitly said is shared. What is not explicitly said is deduced or inferred.

5) Repeat until tired.

Yaaawn... :)

I think that 1) and 2) are always sequential.
Levity d6 - Interactive Storytelling and Roleplaying System

Ron Edwards


Please post an example of real people playing a real game. I say this in order to help you make your point. It's also a requirement for this sort of discussion at the Forge. Without it, we can't continue.

Everyone else, please do not post until Rob has done this.

Best, Ron


It takes a while... but I'm preparing it.
It's an example from a Play By Forum.
Hope it's ok.
Levity d6 - Interactive Storytelling and Roleplaying System

Ron Edwards

That's great, Rob, thanks! Looking foward to a good discussion.

Best, Ron


Here's an example from a current game session, but I think that similar examples may be taken from many games of yours. We're three players (I, Mauro, Glenda). I'll not go into much details about 'technicalities of the game system', because I don't think they really matter, for this discussion, and will report only what's interesting for the focus of discussion.

What's in the fiction?
There's a young woman that has been forced into a mission because "the evil one" has kidnapped her mother. She drove a little plane toward a valley and there's been an incident forcing her to land with some troubles. The plane is now useless, but for a matter of luck she has a look in the distance and sees their mother kidnapped by the guerrillas. Some guerrillas (working for "the evil one") have seen the plane wreck and get near the plane to have a look. The young woman succeeds to hide. The guerrillas get back to their previous path, open a secret passage through rocks and steps in.

Here's an in-game example of what I'm saying.

  • Mauro (acting as a GM, which means that assigns the characters to the players and asks for the interaction to be done), for this scene and for this interaction turn, takes the young girl and all the other fictional elements. Also, he doesn't specify a decision method, meaning that we must agree upon every 'conflict'
  • I, for this scene and for this interaction turn, have to move the guerrillas.
  • Glenda takes the mother.

What I transcript now is the cross-reference between the actual play and the steps I've talked before. I'll map the
statements to Mauro's mind.

Step 1 [In which players imagine scenes and select the candidate move] [Domain: Personal Imagined Space]

[No factual evidence for A, it's just a personal assumption. For B I'm just referring what I was thinking.]

  • A) Mauro imagines in his "Personal Imagined Space" that the girl may enter in the door before its closure AND that she hides to the guerrillas. He has a personal flavour of what is plausible in the current imagined scene.
  • B) I'm imagining, in my "Personal Imagined Space" that the guerrillas have just entered the door." I've a personal flavour of what is plausible in the current imagined scene.

Step 2 [In which players explicitly declare the event that they'd like to have place in the fictional world] [Domains:
Personal Imagined Space and Unvalidated Imagined Space]

Mauro says:
"I'd like the fact of Cassandra trying to sneak in before the door in the rock closes; if you don't mind. Need a check? It
also matters how much near are the guerrillas before the door closes; and this is influenced by Rob (Note: because I'm moving the guerrillas and only I know where they are with respect the door)."

The first check is made:
2a) Is this plausible?
I say: "To me, it's impossible that cassandra sneaks in without being seen." But, at the beginning of the game, we've decided that nothing will be imposed by the decision of a single player. So, I say that this must have at least one probability to be done.
So, we move to (2b) and I say:
"It may have a very very low probability of success."

The move enters into an "Unvalidated Imagined Space". If it passes it will be inserted into the SIS.
Step 3 [In which players negotiate on the unvalidated moves] [Domains: Unvalidated Imagined Space and the SIS]

Rob says:
"But I'd ask a 18 roll with a 3d6. OR, I may accept that Cassandra sneaks in but she's arrested."
Mauro says...
"Mmm... Thinking about it. Not able to write a convincing scene with Cassandra being arrested and I don't like the idea to be leaved outside the secret passage."
"If you want to try to make something while she's arrested you just have to declare it and we'll talk about it."

Mauro takes sometime and tries to resolve the scene, asking for agreement. [Note that other fictional elements are added into the Unvalidated Imagined Space]
"I have'nt found a convincing way to tell about the girl arrested, so I just didn't narrate it :P. Tell me if you both agree."

"Beyond the opening, Cassandra noted some boxes; they could have been useful to hide, if only she was able to enter without being noticed. As soon as guerrillas were out of sight, she rapidly moved toward the entrance; just two meters before the door she had to move unhidden. She made a rapid move and passed under the door, hiding behind the boxes and looking around to be sure not to be noticed, taking a dee breath.
In the control room, one of the guards looked the senator: 'Sir, there's an intrusion. Screen n.2'."

Note how much the move has changed during the transition from the Personal Space through the Validation Space.
I and Glenda agree about all the fictional details.
Step 4 [In which the validated moves enter the SIS and the players update their Personal Imagined Space] [Domains: SIS and Personal Imagined Space]

The SIS is updated with the relevant information using only what has been EXPLICITLY SAID and AGREED. Every player maps what's happened and updates his/her Personal Space, fillng the gaps (i.e. what has not been explicitly said and what was intended or thinking as obvious) with personal information... (where exactly is Cassandra behind the boxes? where exactly are the guards?)

The wheel is ready to make another roll.

Your turn... :)
Very important concepts, to me, are the existence of different imagination spaces and only one of them is really "shared".
Levity d6 - Interactive Storytelling and Roleplaying System

Ron Edwards

Hi Rob,

Thanks for the account.

I don't see any of your statements as controversial nor, actually, as especially interesting. The only part which concerns the functionality of play is how input of any kind is validated as (into?) the SIS. According to the ideas debated and assembled at this site, however that is done is called "system."

In your account, that's a distinct step during which interaction among the participants, usage of various game mechanics, and a group embrace of what might be described as "this happened, what happens next." That seems to me to be what happens during any and all role-playing. In my essays, I called it (or rather adapted a pre-existing term) "Exploration." System is how Exploration, or SIS which is a near-synonym, changes in fictional time.

Is there some way in which you think what you are saying disagrees with the body of ideas here at the Forge?

What are you saying which seems contentious or worthy of discussion?

Best, Ron