A thing I noticed (with a diagram)

Started by Simon C, May 19, 2010, 03:37:35 AM

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Simon C

I've been playing Bliss Stage recently, with a couple of inexperienced players. The game has been really successful, and they've fit in well, but early on one of them expressed a concern to me that she sometimes found it hard to know what the right thing to say was. She found it hard to know what to say next.

That got me thinking about the means by which players decide what to say next.  It seems like it's part of a close relationship with the means by which the group agrees to things in the fiction (aka System).

After a conversation with Eero online, which re-ignited my thoughts on the issue, I drew a diagram that tries to show these two things, and the things that influence them. Here's the (kinda crappily made) diagram:

The inner circle shows the symbiotic relationship of system to what players say - players look to the fiction to decide what to say next, and what they say gets incorporated back into the fiction.

Surrounding that are the things that influence that process. Some things only influence one half of the process, but for example written rules can both be part of the system, and also part of what a player considers in what they'll say next. Social structures, like hierarchies and relationships between players, influence the way players' contributions are incorporated into the fiction, but they also influence what players say. I've tried to put influences together where they blend into each other - for example there's a blurred line between principled and unprincipled decisions, and between group expectations and social structures.

Outside of that, I've shown that some of these things come from the game text, not just rules, but also some of the principles people use to make decisions, and the themes and such of the game. The other side is labled "other stuff". I think maybe the bits down the bottom relate to Creative Agenda in some way, and the other bits could be called Social Contract?

Anyway, that's the diagram of a thing I noticed. I'm pretty sure large parts of it are wrong or at least could be better, but I think maybe it's a useful insight?

Frank Tarcikowski

Hi Simon,

I would say that "how we agree" vs. "what I say next" are hard to separate: We agree because someone says something and then someone else says something next. I say something because I expect the others to agree. It's a very close interaction. So my initial response was that all of what you list in the outer circle matters to both.

Apart from that, I appreciate your player's comment. I think she has pointed a finger at what makes role-playing special. In role-playing, everybody makes decisions and judgements all the time. It's not easy. Some people have claimed good rules can make it easy, well maybe easier, but still. Saying the right thing at a given moment in a given game is what makes a "good role-player", and it's not trivial at all. Some people have a knack for it and others... don't.

Best, Frank
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Christoph Boeckle

Hello Simon

I find the distinction you introduce between how the group agrees to events and how a player decides what to say next very interesting. Maybe they're the same thing, maybe not, either way I find it gives a nice angle.

Could you give us more examples based on your Bliss Stage play with the inexperienced players that illustrate what motivated you to establish that distinction? For example, at what points did your friend express her concern about not knowing what the right thing to say was? Did she say something, or did she stumble? Was what she said agreeable? Could she have said something else that would have been agreeable as well? Could she have said something reasonable that would have upset the other players? If yes, what and how? What did you tell her to alleviate her fears? What where the outcomes of this discussion? Does she still play?

Dan Maruschak

I think the "decides what to say" / "what is acceptable" dichotomy is an interesting one. I think that there are a few classic problems that stem from it. The first one is when a group uses explicit peer pressure to get one player to make a choice for their character "for the good of the story" -- the bounds of what is acceptable severely constrain the decision of what to say. The second is when groupthink sets in and everyone does exactly what is expected at all times and things start to fall flat -- the choices made don't explore the full space of acceptable possibilities.

In contrast to the problems, a lot of memorable RPG moments happen when people make contributions that aren't expected but are acceptable.
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Simon C

Thanks for the replies, everyone.


Absolutely I see all the borders in this diagram as blurred lines. There's no easy way to distinguish them, but I think it's interesting and useful to think of them as functionally seperate.


Actually this thing grew out of a broader discussion about how within the group there seem to be two different and not entirely compatible ways of approaching character play, with some of the players apparently having a fixed idea of their characters that they demonstrate in play, and others sort of intuitively creating their character through play.  We were talking about where that came from (and I think it really needs to be its own thread), and it got me thinking about the "space" in which players make decisions about the game.


Those are good observations. I've seen both of those things happen, especially the latter. It's a thing I've seen especially with players who are very enthusiastic about the idea of indie games, so much so that they think the objective is to collaboratively create a great story, and they'll ignore the system, their character's desires, and anything else, in service of making it come out "right".

Aaron Baker

Dan and Simon,
An experience I had in DnD, that I still struggle with.
I consider my wife to be a "better roleplayer," than I am, because she immerses herself in character, that said, the two best examples I can give are both situations she thinks she did "wrong," and because of them, she avoids joining more games with me.
The first was a warhammer fantasy roleplay, where she was playing a cleric who was new to adventuring.  The DM described the dusty cobwebbed cave entrance, and shortly after entering, my wife decided that her character would sneeze from the dust.  I thought it was great roleplay, but the other characters looked at her oddly, and she felt she had done something wrong.
The second time we were fighting giant rats, rat swarms, and the were-rats leading them.  She entered a room, saw a lump under a pillow, and attacked it with her mace.  Glass shattered, and the party got mad at her because they thought she smashed a potion (it was whiskey, worth 10 gold as treasure...).
In my opinion, in both cases the other players were meta-gaming, but because my wife was new, she didn't realize she was right and they were wrong.  I still can't convince her of this...


Aaron, neither your wife nor your friends were "wrong": both simply have very different styles of play. Your wife was playing according to one style, one with specific priorities of play that your friends did not share. You might be interested in GNS and Other Matters of Role-playing Theory, which is an older overview of this topic.
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