Wednesday, September 21, 2005



aka "Finally, some damn theory"
aka "The newspaper treatment"

What do we need to know? Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. More specifically:

Who role plays?
What do we do when we role play?
What happens when we role play?
When do we role play?
Where do we role play?
Why do we role play?
How do we role play?

When and Where are more ancilliary, I think (except in the context of when in life do we role play, or something, which I don't think is particularly useful). I would argue that the Forge is doing a bang-up job of examining Who and Why. Various blogs (like anyway and This Is My Blog to name the most prominent) are also very down with Why, and, to an extent, How. At Game Foo, Joshua is taking aim squarely at What we do and How. And here, I'm, in fits and starts, trying to work on What happens.


Previous Posts on this subject:
What Is It We Do Again?
What It Is We Do, 2

Working Definition:
When we Roleplay, we engage in a process of collaborative creation as audience-participants. This process engages audience-participants both as creators of entertainment as as viewers of it. The recursive dynamic between the creation and appreciation of input to the game is key.

From Joshua's comment, lets add in "at various points during play" after the second sentence.

Let's also start unpacking the last sentence a little more. There is a relationship between creation of input and exploration of input that I don't think is automatically synonomous with the relationship between creation and appreciation. That is, you can explore what others have created without necessarily appreciating it, and vice versa. [Thought tangent = exploration without appreciation and appreciation without exploration as processes that underlie gaming dysfunction?]

So we have relationships between creation, exploration and appreciation. This is keying into Joshuas model, I think, and his comments on this point would be appreciated! Remember that players are audience-participants. It seems to me that creation is a participatory process, appreciation is an audience(y? I'm sure there's a better word) process, and exploration swings both ways. There is active exploration (Whats in this room? What is she thinking? Describe this scene to me!) and passive exploration (You walk into the room and see...).

Now, what happens when we actually play is that each player oscillates from creator of material to appreciator of material. I propose that the medium for this oscillation, or perhaps the motive force that controls this oscillation, is that of exploration. The audience member passively explores the material created by others, but as they get interested and start actively creating their own material they shift to active exploration.

When we Roleplay, we engage in a process of collaborative creation as audience-participants. This process engages audience-participants both as creators of entertainment as as viewers of it at various points during play. The medium of change from audience to participant during the course of a game is the level of engagement in exploration. The recursive dynamic between the creation and appreciation of input to the game is key.

You look like you're developing a useful definition of what's going on, Nathan. I'm looking forward to seeing how this can be applied to solving problems in play!

Couple things:

The "when" and "where" questions are actually pretty important, as long as you answer them in terms of headspace rather than physical reality -- that is, it doesn't matter if you're playing "at Joe's house at eight." You're playing "at the gaming table on Game Night." How the gaming space and the gaming time are constructed key into all the talk about ritual spaces that Meguey has been talking about at the Forge and anyway.

I also see a lot of parallels between your relationships and my interactions. You seem to be drifting towards saying that creation, exploration, and appreciation are separate processes, though. Is this your intention? Cause I'd have to heartily disagree -- roleplaying is at its best when we're doing all three simultaneously. That's not required, but it's certainly optimal.

In parallel, I wonder if 'level of exploration' frames what's happening in value terms that you don't need. Talking about 'higher levels' and 'lower levels' will inevitably favor whatever you identify as 'higher' and denigrate what you identify was 'lower'. (This is a big problem for me in the Big Model, were Social Contract is 'higher' and techniques are 'lower' despite the fact that they are all equally necessary to the process.) By 'level of exploration' are you referring to that active/passive dichotomy of narrating yourself and listening to others narrate? It sounds like you're forging a connection between 'actively' creating and 'passively' appreciating via different modes of exploration. Am I reading that right?

In my mind, the audience of any work of art is always involved in the creative process. When reading, we are always thinking forward (what will happen next?) and backwards (so that's why that happened!), forging connections and theories that we will 'test' with later data we get from the text. This is why I say that roleplaying is best when we're both playing audience (listening) as well as creating (forming mental associations between elements) at the same time.

Looking forward to seeing more! Keep it up!

Thanks. I am inching towards real-world application...

Responses to your couple things:

Paragraph 1: You're totally right about how "when" and "where" are related (encapsulated?) by the ritual space discussion, and I'm a foo for not making the connection. So, Ben (via Polaris), Meg (via posts at Forge and anyway) and Chris Lehrich (via his article and his dicussion of Bricolage) are all working on that angle.

Paragraph 2: No no no, not seperate processes, but, I think, distinct processes. They have relationships and dynamics between and among them, and I think that thats where the work you're doing really relates to my thoughts. But, I don't think that they are seperate "aspects" of one process (unless that process be "Roleplaying" as a whole).

Incidentally, I would say that we need all three simulataneously, when looking at the timeframe of one instance of play. As in, they all go on during a session of play. But I think that they wax and wane in proportion to one another (as, in my last post on the subject, you commented that it's perfectely good role play to be Audience for half and hour, then Participant for half an hour, etc).

Paragraph the 3rd: Seems that you're reading me about right. I don't think that I talk about higher and lower anything - my metaphor right now is that level of engagement swings like a pendulum from passive to active. I defintely need to parse out what I'm talking about here more, though, and I think that thats going to be the next post.

Ah, distinct is an excellent word for it! Keep it movin!
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