A wordy post, but it's a very simple matter.
Roleplaying is a bunch of people talking around the table. As we talk, we establish what's going in this fictional world, with these fictional characters, blah blah.
GM: "You're standing in a room, there's a table and a chair there."
Player: "I sit on the chair."
It's a big cloud hanging over the table in front of us and what we say gets fed into it. But we also have to read the cloud. Sometimes, we have to correct, negotiate or revise. Sometimes we're reading the cloud one way but we're not saying it and as a consequence, the cloud starts to drift away from us in relation to the other players, because we're not really contributing.
Player: "I sit on the chair."
GM: "Oh I forgot to say, it's a giant's chair, it's too big for you to sit on."
We need to talk and get those images out of our heads and feed them into the cloud, so that we're all on the same page.
Sometimes we get lazy, sometimes it's the game mechanics' fault, and it just kinda falls apart. There's is no cloud. If there is, it's vague. We have enough to go by in real-world cues that we don't really need to read the cloud, and since we don't need to read it, there's no need to add to it.
Player: "I attack. I rolled a 18!"
DM: "That's a successful attack, roll damage."
Player: "That's 7 damage."
DM: "He's got 18 HP left."
Sometimes this drifts to the point where people aren't really able to conceptualize fictional game stuff (read/write) into the cloud, even when it's asked of them.
GM: "So what are you doing?"
Player: "I'm killing him."
GM: "No, I mean, what are you doing? Like, in the game, in the fiction...What does your character do?"
Player: "I'm rolling my sword skill yeah?"
For me, the imaginary space is what makes RPGs RPGs, so I have trouble with this "weak cloud" stuff sometimes. It doesn't have to be physical stuff either. I think it's what Luke calls "sacred space". When the player says "My character changes sides." and there's nothing on the character sheet, nothing on the dice that's informing this, but the cloud changes, and everything changes. But physical stuff is easier to talk about.
Player: "I jump back on the table, away from his sword."
GM: "The orc sneers at you and draws his loaded crossbow instead."
A recent example: One of my players is playing a monk, his character grapples a troglodyte, which makes him exposed to another, adjacent troglodyte. He realizes this and shifts nervously in his seat. I say to him "well, you're grappling the guy, why don't you use him as a living shield?" and he's just kinda lost. "It's not by the rules." He can't make it happen with dice or numbers, or modifiers or rulebooks...it's too deep in the cloud. He's not reading the fictional situation as a, you know "real" situation. He's not reacting to the fiction or interacting with the fiction, just the real-world stuff.
I've noticed this happens a lot with certain players in Apocalypse World. I just keep repeating "this is the fictional situation, what do you do, this is the fictional situation, what do you do?" and they ask to do something that's completely irrational given the situation or hopelessly look to the rules.
What I'm interested in is: Do you have trouble with reading the game's imaginary cloud-space? Do you know someone who does?
I'd like to talk about it. Since the fiction is so important to me sometimes, I often find myself at loss with players who pay no attention to it, ascribing no importance or authority to it or just don't (can't?) perceive it as something tangible.