Who REALLY coined "Shared Imagined Space"?

Started by Moreno R., July 21, 2010, 10:56:20 AM

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Moreno R.


I was arguing in another forum with a guy who was using Fang Langford definition of "Shared Imaginary Space" as the "original" one on which the Big Model definition was based on (something even Fang say in the article linked above).  Even in other forge threads, like this one from 2005 Fang is given that primogeniture.

But this is not what the Forge Archive (and search function) says...

The post where Fang write for the first time Shared ImaginaRY Space is this one, January 31, 2003.

But the first use of Shared ImaginED Space is from ONE YEAR BEFORE:  Jesse Burneko use it in this post from February 14, 2002!

QuoteCharacter, Situation, Setting, Color and System.

I think Theme/Plot are dilberately excluded from this list because they are fundamentally different and not NECESSARY for something to be a roleplaying game.  The five elements listed are all, 'in-game' constructs.  Notice that the footnote even defines 'System' to mean 'events to be occurring.'  That is, these things all really 'exist' in the shared imagined space that is the game world.  If this imagined space were somehow real then these 5 things are what it would be made up of.

The search function find the following use of the phrase more than two months after this, in this thread, and still by Jesse.

I tried searching for other, previous use of the phrase in Usenet or in the web using google, but the first mention I did found was from 2005.  This doesn't mean much, google doesn't index every page and every usenet post.  And the phrase could have been used in a magazine, a fanzine, or in the text of a game.

Anyway, at this point in my research it seems that even if Fang is the one who coined "Shared Imaginary Space", as he (and Randomwiki) say, this has really nothing to do with the "Shared Imagined Space" of the Big Model, who was coined independently (and one year before) by Jesse Burneko.

So, the Randomwiki Page and most other pages on the issue (that I suppose took their data from Randomwiki) are simply wrong.

This, if there isn't an even previous use of SIS that I wasn't able to find.

Some of the people who were here at the forge at the time can add something (even some links...) to this, and to map the history of the "Shared Imagined Space" concept in more details?

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

Larry L.

Very cool challenge, Moreno!

Some context here for anyone who's never uttered the phrase "Shared Imaginary Space" in front of Ron... Ron is really quite particular that it's "Shared Imagined Space," for reasons he could (and undoubtedly will!) explain better, but suffice it to say I think he's correct about it, and it hadn't even occurred to me how the difference was implying a different meaning.

So, it has seemed obvious that this "Shared Imaginary Space" thing caught on as simple language corruption. Anything that corroborates or disproves my assumption is interesting.

Paul Czege

I believe the phrase/term was borrowed from academic story research by rec.games.frp.advocacy discussions well prior to The Forge. This journal article from 1999 about a storytelling playmat for children uses the phrase "shared imagined space" on page 14.

"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton


Hey Moreno,

I'm fairly certain that my use of that phrase in that post is completely accidental.  In other words, it was just a word choice at the time and not an attempt at defining something or drawing a box around something in particular.  It's just the turn of phrase I happened to use.

Ron is particular about the term "ImaginED" vs "ImaginARY" because the first is a verb.  It's something the players are DOING together.  It represents an observable act of communication.  All of Ron's stuff is about stuff you can actually SEE, if you were standing in the room watching a group play together.  That's often a source of fundamental misunderstanding about The Big Model.

Paul may have the right of it with that article linked.  As to who actually popularized her at The Forge it wouldn't surprise me if Shared Imagined Space is simply Ron's personal refinement on Fang's Shared Imaginary Space.  I agree that the ideas are not the same but that doesn't mean that one wasn't derived from the other the way GNS was derived from GDS.


Moreno R.


Thank you for your replies. That article from 1999 clearly shows that the idea of a "shared imagined space" when playing games based on imagination or "play pretend" in a group is rather natural, even outside "proper rpgs". And the way Jesse used it in a "completely accidental" way support this (curiously, Google don't show any use of "Shared Imagined Space" in rec.games.frp.advocacy at all. But Google's coverage of usenet is spotty at best, too many people used the no-archive tag...)

So I directed my searches to find, instead, the history of the phrase in the contest of forge dialog. How the current meaning in Forge Theory was reached and changed with time.

The first use, by Jesse here (Feb 14, 2002), talk about the Shared Imagined Space as the "game world", so it's very different from the current meaning. The second use is still by Jesse, on April 18, 2002, here

Around this period Fang Langford post his Scatteshot Gaming Model" (March 20, 2002) where he say: "The most central concept of gaming is the imaginary place (the game world) where all the action takes place", but don't give this place a name. He doesn't use Shared ImaginaRY space until Jan. 31, 2003, here

In 2002 the phrase is used only by Jesse and only these two times, but in 2003, it's used three times in a few days.

But first, this citation from the SIM essay (posted at the end of January 2003), in the definition of IIEE at the end:
IIEE :     Short for Intent, Initiative, Execution, and Effect, referring to the relationship between announcements of action by real people and the establishment of those actions into the shared imaginary game-world

A few days later (February 4, 2003), Mike Holmes says "So which is it? Is Director Stance play, or isn't it? If not, what is it? Why the artificial separation between these phases of...activity?...in RPGs. By the definition of role-playing as creating a shared imaginary space, it's all play to me, just play with separate rules".

So at this time it seems that the dialog is still about a "shared imaginary space" that is a "game world"

But a few days before (Jan 25, 2003) Ron write in another thread
We can talk about a lot of stuff that goes into an imagined, shared  event in the role-playing "world." We can talk about the GM's prep, we can talk about character creation, we can talk about the system as written, we can talk about metaplot in the sourcebook, we can talk about the argument about whether a mind-blast can "really" fry a person's brain "that fast" ...

But I'm talking about getting that imagined event into the shared space among the people, and keeping it there as "game history."

This is the first instance I have found of the concept of "space among people, to share imagined events", by the way...

In the same thread from which I have taken his previous quote, Mike Holmes propose a new theory term (february 5, 2003),: "I'll coin a new jargon term, Construction. Construction means all parts of RPG activity that add elements to the jointly imagined space, whether they be adding a country, adding a character, adding an action, whatever. As such, Construction includes all Play, and all Pre-Play, and all Post-Play, so long as it's about adding something to the imagined space. Thus we maintain our separation between play and stuff like chargen, but still have a term to talk about the similar natures of these RPG activities. In fact, I'd say that Construction would probably entail all of what is technically considered to be the activity of RPGs, leaving out only those elements that are often considered (potentially incorrectly) as ancillary such as OOC socialization during a session. "

On march 10, 2003, Jack Spencer write: Actually this is fairly interesting. The lumpley principle says that the system is the method by which things are agreed upon in the shared imaginary space that the game takes place IIRC. What we're seeing here is  that each player has their own imaginary space and they overlap on the shared space. Using the norse god example again, if the GM says "a norse god with long hair" two players will have the same general feel for the god in the shared space but in their personal imagined space, one may imagine red hair while the other imagines blond. Now, lets say that later the GM mentions this god's long black hair. (Black because the GM is ignorant of norse races and, therefore, their gods would have either red or blond hair) So what happened? This particular detail now has to leave the personal imagined space and enter the shared imagined space.

At this time, it seems that "shared Imaginary Space" and "shared Imagined Space" are used as total synonyms.

From this time, "SIS" become really common in forge discussions, so I'll stop listing every case. I will concentrate on the ones that depart from the common "game world" meaning.

As this one, from Ron (june 4, 2003)
What's being missed is that we have to be discussing real play. A character sheet is not an Explored Character. A notebook full of pages or a shelf full of sourcebooks is not Explored Setting. The five elements exist only as shared, imagined constructs in the communicative space among people.

Hence, System is what provides motion and time to the imaginative construct. Without it, as I said in the quoted passage above, the other four elements are "frozen" in that imagined space.

Perhaps I should clarify my position on the entire issue still further. Anyone is free to consider any of the five elements to "encompass" the others. I can make a case for doing so for any one of them, without strain. I am not saying you can't privilege System the way you and Mike are doing; I'm saying, "So what?" and shrugging, as the same point applies to each of the others.

It's interesting that in 2003 Ron use "Shared Imaginary Space" more than he use "Shared Imagined Space" (check the search page...). It's like the concept outline in the quote above and the Shared Imagin*** Space were still not united in one.

On February 27, 2004, Emily Care Boss:
The creation of the shared imaginary happenings is also a social happening. It occurs between two or more people, and involves communication and emotional/intellectual contact of some sort.  It is a real world interaction even if what is described within it only happens in pretend.

Exploration is a specific--perhaps ritualized is the right word--type of social interaction. Socializing per se is often seen as interactions that occur while gaming that do not involve exploration.  But exploration and socializing are not dichotomous. Exploration is a subset of socializing.

On April 1, 2004, finally...
"Creative Agenda" doesn't imply that creation only occurs at that point. I think you are still processing the role of this term/process as an arrow in the model, rather than as a box/level of its own. That arrow is a very very big deal.

Why? Because it accounts for exactly your concern. Exploration is the "creative" part, because Exploration is defined as verbal, shared, imaginative content. (Exploration and "Shared Imagined Space" are practically the same thing.)

Techniques are what the people actually do to establish events into the Shared Imagined Space; they are the manifestations of how System interactions with the rest of the Explorative components.

So ... an arrow extends from Creation (as you call it; I say Exploration or SIS) to Doing Stuff (Techniques), and that arrow is all about how and why those particular Techniques are chosen (well or badly).

Hence that arrow is the Creative Agenda. I think the term is accurate, precise, distinct, and descriptive.

June 22, 2004, Matthis Holter:
I don't quite see how Exploration can be phased out in favor of "shared imagined space". Isn't Exploration something you do to the s.i.s.?

At this time the use of "SIS" instead of the longer (and easier to search for) Shared Imagined Space is so widespread that I am sure I am missing a lot of threads...

And at last we get to Vincent's "A short rant about "SIS" (aug 4, 2004 - AFTER the provisional glossary was posted) that I am quoting entirely:
"SIS" is broken terminology.  I hate it with hate!

The SIS is precisely what the players agree happens in the game.  A CRPG, a game book, Stratego, they don't have SISs, because the players don't agree what happens in the game.  They look and observe what happens in the game!  The events of the game are non-imaginary, thus have no need for "shared" or "imaginary" (and don't get me started about how misleading a metaphor "space" is).

Playing Stratego or a CRPG or a game book, you might imagine details beyond the events of the game, but those details are not and can never be events of the game themselves.  Even if you go ahead and imagine them ("my general wears absurd muttonchops!"), and even if you go ahead and share them with your fellow players ("hey Mitch, my general wears absurd muttonchops!"), they do not ever matter to the game.

In a tabletop RPG there are two kinds of things.  One kind is the imaginary, fictional stuff in the game: made up places, made up people doing made up things.  The other kind is the real, actual stuff you can see and touch: numbers on paper, die rolls, maps.  The SIS is exclusively the first kind of thing; none of the second kind of thing can be part of it.  Because the second kind of thing is, y'know, non-imaginary. 

Playing a tabletop RPG, both kinds of things contribute to the game.  Events in the game can depend on wholly imaginary things, wholly real things, or both.  It's important to maintain a "shared" imagination of what's happening in the game for the exact reason that events in the game can depend on it.

Playing a CRPG or a game book, everything that contributes to the game is the second kind of thing.  Real.  The position of your mouse when you click, which page you turn to.  You can't disagree that you turned to page 55 or that your mouse was on the "hit with sword" button when you clicked it.

Along the same lines, we can't consider the CRPG or game book to be a System for an SIS between author and player.  If I imagine a detail beyond the real events of the game, I have no way of knowing (and no real reason to wonder) whether the author and I share it.  Between author and player, it's either real or irrelevent.

(None of which, by the way, should you understand to mean that I don't consider CRPGs or game books to be roleplaying.  I have no such stake.)


Ron's reply:
I guess I don't see the problem. I like the recent formulation that runs as follows:

- we all individually imagine (characters in settings, facing situations, having events happen, all very colorful)

- we communicate about this constantly in the understanding that each of our individual "experiences" are to be consistent with everyone else's[note: not identical and not 100% consistent; I accept that this is impossible and in some cases undesirable]

- the extent to which we succeed is measured by how satisfying it is to continue the activity for whatever designated period, and that it doesn't break up due to dissatisfaction

I really liked the analogy of playing catch. Sure, each participant interacts with the ball and each other through his or her individual cognitive construct of the world. Who knows how similar these constructs are? No one. But in the physical space of the event, the ball really is being thrown and caught.

Subsitute "social space" for "physical space" and I don't see why role-playing can't be understood in precisely these terms.

Shared - Imagined - Space (by which I mean the five components). Works fine for me.

The rant was really about some post that at the time talked about "SIS" as something even videogames had, but it's interesting here because it shows that already the "space" is seen as a social space, not a geometric / geographic one.

And in the same thread, Ron says for the first time:
H'm, Ralph, my construction is just a little different - to me, the "shared" necessitates actual communication and contribution among the sharers to create that space. I guess that's why I always try to say Shared Imagined Space rather than "imaginary," although I probably forget every so often. By using "imagined," I'm trying to turn it into more of a verb - that people actually have to do it, rather than receive it visually from (say) a screen.

There are still A LOT of threads about SIS to see, following this one, that refine the concept (and if you are interested, I invite you to read them and continue this thread), but what interested me, the change from "SIS=Game world" to "SIS=Exploration" it's happened already. And I didn't identify exactly when...

Well, it was fun anyway (at least for me, I hope I did not bore everybody too much...) even if I didn't find what I was searching for. I really would like to see other threads about the history of concepts in Forge Theory. Even better if they will be written by people who was there at the time...


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

Christoph Boeckle