Social Scripts and In-game Action

edited December 2010 in Story Games
In social psychology, there exists a thing called script theory. It posits that people often keep loosely to 'scripts'. So, if you're going on a date, you might use the "dinner-and-a-movie" script, which acts like a basic framework. Using the script means that you don't need to negotiate every detail with others; you just do the thing, improvising the details. In the theory, we use scripts all the damn time; vast swathes of our everyday lives are managed by a relatively small number of scripts that we either learned or built up over time.

So, maybe this is especially true, maybe it's less true. Whatever. But hold that thought.

Now, consider "standard marching order" and "standard camp setup" in RPGs that have adventures like that. Those are, well, something akin to the same subject. But we only use them in limited ways, as gamers. Would it be useful to have the players sit down and drum up the scripts for other stuff that "happens off camera"?

Equally, on the front that reads 'social mechanics', imagine telling your players that the Great Chamalun Ceremonial Gathering (or whatever) has a script - a list of what happens when and how, that isn't written down anywhere. Their social rolls will be used to gauge how much of the script they can follow, at low levels, and how much they can change it for everyone at high levels. A social master can lead a group through a unique Tea Ceremony that has novel overtones, without missing a beat or dropping a slacker. Which might be helpful to players navigating the Empire of the Petal Throne... But might also come off as stilted and rigid (Which might mean it would sing in your High Victorian game - but not your Frontier Badass game).

Or the things could get combined in group worldbuilding. Or handed out to players whose character would know them. Or whatever.

Anyway, there's this thing. It keeps coming up, in my head. Thoughts?

Comments

  • Several games have used scripts in the past. For me the most effective was the Star Wars d6 initial module in the main book. It got people into character and talking about their problem (stormtroopers shootin'), fast. The least effective, aka, the worst, was the oWoD module in play format. Good lord.
  • Posted By: JDCorleySeveral games have used scripts in the past. For me the most effective was the Star Wars d6 initial module in the main book. It got people into character and talking about their problem (stormtroopers shootin'), fast. The least effective, aka, theworst, was the oWoD module in play format. Good lord.
    What made the bad one bad?
  • Posted By: Levi KornelsenWhat made the bad one bad?
    That.
    And I would like to hear more about the SWd6 scripts, too. I haven't heard of that before.
  • I'm using this a bit in my classical game Fabula, to make a framework for playing certain groups that act within some kind of "routine". A traveling troupe of circus-artists, f.ex. But I've never used it in ordinary adventure-groups. It may prove interesting, though. Please elaborate, if you can, on how such a script should be worded ...
  • Posted By: TomasHVMI'm using this a bit in my classical gameFabula, to make a framework for playing certain groups that act within some kind of "routine". A traveling troupe of circus-artists, f.ex. But I've never used it in ordinary adventure-groups. It may prove interesting, though. Please elaborate, if you can, on how such a script should be worded ...
    I'm not sure, yet - It's something I ran into in class, and I can't get it out of my head. A stop at the university library may be required, to get more on the basic idea.
  • David Velleman (a philospher at, I believe, NYU) wrote a book called How We Get Along. In one of the chapters he talks about the idea of social scripts. I bring this up because large parts of the rest of the book at about improvisation, and when I read it I kept thinking about rpgs. So, if you're into reading accessible philosophy books, then you might want to check it out. Though I don't agree with Velleman in a number of key ways, it's a thought provoking book and one pretty relevant to our hobby in interesting ways.

    (Note: if you're allergic to contemporary Kantian morality, skip the last couple of chapters.)
  • Sounds related to "instincts" or whatever they're called in Burning Empires. "I always bring my gun to a date".
  • This is evoked quite literally in some games -- both in PTA and the Buffy RPG, I've seen table talk that was a sort of scriptwriting bull session -- everybody's seen enough 30- and 60-minute shows to know the basic structure and when it's time for a tag line.
  • Posted By: MatthijsSounds related to "instincts" or whatever they're called in Burning Empires. "I always bring my gun to a date".
    Yes, it does! Instincts is a bit simpler though, and more geared towards helping the player react within the frames of a situation. While this shit seems to be a framework for creating situations. Levi?
  • edited December 2010
    Posted By: TomasHVMPosted By: MatthijsSounds related to "instincts" or whatever they're called in Burning Empires. "I always bring my gun to a date".
    Yes, it does! Instincts is a bit simpler though, and more geared towards helping the player react within the frames of a situation. While this shit seems to bea framework for creating situations. Levi?

    Yes and no?

    Yes:
    If we have the Script for the Great Ball, the session itself can walk though it bit by bit. "First dance - if you're looking for a set partner, make a check on that. *Clatter* Okay, Tom, you're actually dancing with Princess Rosalind. Good job, that man. We've got ten exchanges of phrases; go past that, and you're messing up the dance with chatter. Talk." At which point, it's about structuring a situation.

    No:
    If we all know exactly how the Phoenix Tea Ceremony runs (we have that script down pat), then it's very easy for the GM (or whoever) to just go "Miku performs the tea ceremony with grace; her chosen poem is about loneliness. What's yours about?". If we had no idea how the Phoenix Tea Ceremony worked, that bit would come out of left field. Which cuts out a scene, but could still bring something out of the cut (as is usual).

    And, totally, "I always bring my gun" is absolutely a relative.
  • Posted By: Levi KornelsenWhat made the bad one bad?
    You were playing NPCs, not your characters, and all the important decisions in the situation were made by them. Lame.

    The reason the Star Wars d6 ones were good was because they were snappy banter all about whose fault it was and how bad a feeling they had. It could have been lifted directly from Empire.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyPosted By: Levi KornelsenWhat made the bad one bad?
    You were playing NPCs, not your characters, and all the important decisions in the situation were made by them. Lame.

    The reason the Star Wars d6 ones were good was because they weresnappy banterall about whose fault it was and how bad a feeling they had. It could have been lifted directly from Empire.

    So, these were actual scripts, like, with lines?
  • On a total tangent, these various sorts of scripts + areas for improv, strike me as a great core for some RolePlaying Poem sized stuff.
  • Yeah, this sounds less like actual scripts to read out and more like procedures that allow for consistent approaches to social situations. I've thought about this a lot in the past, esp. connected to Leverage. If you have a six-stage procedure for handling a meeting with a foreign dignitary that, in general, is supposed to work, then the trick is to make sure you can pull it off well and then, later, to riff from it without losing its effectiveness.

    Cheers,
    Cam
  • If the Tea Ceremony stuff in this thread is any indicator, it sounds like the upshot of implementing this kind of stuff is to put real rituals into the make believe societies.
    Not only would this/could this make such societies feel a bit more real, you could have dramatic timing also -
    player: "Okay... [goes down the list of the ceremony's elements] when the congregation stands up to sing the next hymn, THAT'S when we should start shooting."

    Or - - "I leave right before Communion. No way is our target going to skip that."
    ??
  • Posted By: Zac in DavisIf the Tea Ceremony stuff in this thread is any indicator, it sounds like the upshot of implementing this kind of stuff is to put real rituals into the make believe societies.
    I think that the category includes rituals, but isn't limited to them...

    "Business Lunch" is a social script that many of us actually know. Cam's "six-stage procedure", totally. I'd hesitate to call either a ritual, except in some very technical form of the word.

    "Dinner and a Movie", too. We don't have lines at the end of the "Dinner and a Movie" script, but we do know about the Goodnight Kiss scene, right? And, I suspect, some have actually walked through that script in life.

    On the other hand, codifying them just as if they were rituals might be exactly the ticket to making them useable in a game. Which makes me want to look at, say, a book of common prayer...
  • I would love a whole book or chapter of these things.
  • Totally stealing this idea for Sign in Stranger.
  • Posted By: Emily CareTotally stealing this idea for Sign in Stranger.
    Awesome. What do you think you'll *do* with it?
  • Here is a link to a paper from the Intercultural Communications journal. What's need about it: 1) It's readable 2) Provides examples of social scripts.

    Journal Article


    ara
  • edited December 2010
    Posted By: akooserHere is a link to a paper from the Intercultural Communications journal. What's need about it: 1) It's readable 2) Provides examples of social scripts.

    Journal Article
    !!!

    Awesome. Thanks, Ara!

    The included "eating at an American restaurant" script is lovely, and the contrast between American and Chinese gift exchange is great.
  • (Marginalia - I like "ritual" for the procedural stuff, if you're not just going to be direct and say "social procedure"... and I don't care who Dr. So-and-so was who used "script" in a connotation-jarring way.

    Script denotes either lines of dialogue and movement on stage/screen or a style of writing/written characters (obsolete); it also denotes a VERY syntactically precise set of instructions in a high-level programming language (tech.).

    Its connotations imply significant constraints; while your "RPG thingie" about which you're thinking inherently has latitude, is only a suggestion of a course of action, and is thus merely a common social procedure. Look above: not even 20 posts into the thread, and it is already fracturing due to confusion caused by this social theorist's misuse of the term, as conveyed by you in the OP, Levi.

    Jesus... sloppy RPG theory-talk undermined by sloppy social theory-talk... it's like an editor's nightmare of recursion....)
  • Ahem... more on point:

    There's a couple of ways in which this can be used in RPGs
    * System procedures - the game encodes in rules how players engage in character creation, player interactions, resolutions, narrative authority allocation, and so forth.
    * Setting procedure - the Petal Empire Tea Ceremony, the "dating rituals" or spiritual ceremonies in the game's cultures, and so forth.
    * Social procedures - who brings the snacks; who makes the map; who hosts; what's expected of guests upon arriving, while attending, upon departing; and so forth.

    LOTS to unpack, in other words, to speak about social ritual/procedures as pertains to RPGs, be it in the RAW, game color, or social contract (and probably more--these seem like the Big ones).
  • Posted By: David Artman(Marginalia - I like "ritual" for the procedural stuff, if you're not just going to be direct and say "social procedure"... and I don't care who Dr. So-and-so was who used "script" in a connotation-jarring way.
    *Seeks better term*

    "Routine"?
  • Sure, routine works better, too. Better than procedure, actually, because it implies more flexibility (I have a cleaning routine that I do in whatever order makes sense on the day; I have a shower cleaning procedure to clean from top to bottom, so as not to "re-clean" stuff due to rinsed-off dirt).

    Heh... it was just supposed to be marginalia, not the "semantic core" of the thread. But now were on it, there is a spectrum of "prescriptions about structured activity" that ranges through:
    Script - precise
    Ritual - less precise, often flexible in terms of timing and performance elements
    Procedure - a sequence of activities which may sometimes be juggled or contain irrelevancies for a specific application
    Routine - an "unordered list"; stuff that gets done, in no particular order, but STILL with a "formal" start and finish
    Activity - intentional plan to do Something, but no inherent timing, sequence, or even rules

    Anyhow... I didn't want to derail; which is why I tried to speak more on-point. There's a ton to unpack around "social [script | ritual | procedure | routine] as you bring it into the thread. I found myself thinking of old Traveller character creation, with its tables that lead to more tables (that could lead to a dead PC before finishing chargen!). I likewise thought of DitV's initial challenge that's part of character creation--it's formalized in chargen but there's NOTHING specific about what it should be about (it's just a way to "force" a tutorial on the basic conflict res system--another procedure). Then I thought of DitV Ceremony--clearly ritual, and as clearly very flexible (within the constraints of the system's rules). Which made me think of the old phrase "the dating ritual"... "marriage ceremonies"... "after-work routines"... you get the idea. CLOSELY related terms, but the connotations/distinctions are everything, both in terms of comprehension in communications AND in terms of how they'd be applied in RPGs, specifically.

    NOT threadjacking... just hoping less vague terms would lead to more germane ideas for application.
  • Posted By: Levi KornelsenSo, these wereactualscripts, like, with lines?
    Yep!
  • edited December 2010
    Posted By: CamBanksI would love a whole book or chapter of these things.
    So would I. Have to write it. My experience with scripts/routines/seremonies like this, is that it constitutes a great platform for player improvisation. And while improvising on such a platform, it is easier for the players to build up an illusion of things repeating themselves, while at the same time introducing, and thoroughly enjoying, both minute and major changes to the routines. I love this kind of gameplay!
  • edited December 2010
    Posted By: Levi KornelsenPosted By: Emily CareTotally stealing this idea for Sign in Stranger.
    Awesome. What do you think you'll *do* with it?

    The characters are in the process of learning what scripts the aliens in the planet the humans come to colonize use for..everything! The concept would be great to help players have a sense of what they are looking for, and also, once one is established, that would help the world feel more concrete and ordered.

    There could also be method "scripts" that Earth gives the colonists to follow, eg "When making first contact be sure to use non-threatening body language, etc." Or, the colonists could be responsible for sending social scripts back to Earth. Which could be quite funny.

    The other level it could be useful is giving the players a sense of what the rhythm should be in the game, since there's no single gm, but it's not a turn based game. A structure from which to improvise might be a good way to look at how they'll be ordering their play.
    Posted By: TomasHVMPosted By: CamBanksI would love a whole book or chapter of these things.
    So would I. Have to write it. My experience with scripts/routines/seremonies like this, is that it constitutes a great platform for player improvisation. And while improvising on such a platform, it is easier for the players to build up an illusion of things repeating themselves, while at the same time introducing, and thoroughly enjoying, both minute and major changes to the routines. I love this kind of gameplay!

    Second for the book! This kind of framework is what makes jeep, larp and rpg flow much better for me than straight improv. Having character background and story to work off of is a lot easier and, perhaps, leads to richer story.
  • Posted By: Emily CareThe characters are in the process of learning what scripts the aliens in the planet the humans come to colonize use for..everything!
    I really like that one! Makes me ponder the possibilities of writing up such 'social scripts' for the various races in my fantasy-world; the man-eating trolls, the black orcs, the mystic gnomes ... and of course; the intelligent big-birds.

    I believe GM's would find that very helpful ... and that it would do much for improving the interaction between player characters and non-player characters. Good stuff, this!
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