Vincent wrote this blog post
talking about these fundamental parts of a game and I'm probably going to end up referencing them so maybe it's a good idea to read that post.
I think that when we talk about "Shared Imagined Space" or a "Game State," we're often conflating two separate things. Real-world cues--things like numbers on a character sheet or whatever--have a kind of dual nature, where they alternately represent
a piece of information in The Fiction, or else produce
that fiction itself.
In the latter case, these real-world cues are like shadow puppets. You shine a light on them and they cast a shadow on the wall, and we query the wall to understand what they mean in fictional terms.
In some games you can get up and move the actual shadows (the in-game cues) around by themselves, and if they have a corresponding puppet the puppet will move with it. In Vincent's diagrams these are the ones where the arrows point from the Imagination-Cloud-Bubble to the D6. Or you can go up to the wall that the shadows are projected on and draw (and/or erase) stuff directly on it. These additions are still part of the fiction, but they will never have a corresponding puppet.
But sometimes this relationship is one-way. You can only
move the shadow by moving the puppet, because the puppet is privileged in some way by the system. Sometimes games like this are derided for being too boardgame-like, too mechanical, like pushing buttons on a character sheet, etc...because despite the fact that you can still participate in All-Drama play (i.e. play where you only move fictional pieces, without any corresponding real-world cues) by drawing on the wall next to the shadows, you can't use fictional triggers to affect the puppets.
But we all (I think) accept that All-Drama play is still a kind of roleplaying. And even if the In-Game Cues can't affect the puppets directly, we can still use the fiction (including both the shadows and the things we draw on top of them) as a guide when we make choices as to how to move the puppets if we so choose. But even if we don't, as long as we're building off of the shadows, it's hard to argue that the two aren't interrelated.
I think that to some people this is very anathema. "Why would I do anything if it doesn't give me an advantage?" Apparently when I say because it's funny or interesting, nobody ever likes that answer. Some people will never stunt if it doesn't give them a bonus die, or will never drop the flashlight if they aren't rewarded for it.
But I think there's a lot of value in trying to view the two sides--the shadows and the drawings on the wall--as a single picture, even if the processes that create them are divorced from one another. It can be a way to "lose" (fictionally) without "failing" (mechanically), for example, which has implications for Play-to-lose play. Or conversely, it can allow you room to portray a character who is competent and successful (fictionally) even if a game's Fortune mechanics might say that you are failing (or, depending on the system, if you as a player lack the competency that the character you're portraying is supposed to have). You can inject humor or drama into a game without needing to bend the game mechanics towards supporting them.You can do almost anything you can do in an All-Drama game, as long as you continue to respect the positioning of the puppets.
There's a certain current in Japanese game design that has really hopped on this dichotomy--heavy procedural mechanics with low fictional feedback, but leaving ample space for gussying up the shadow puppets with whatever decorations you want to throw at them--and it's one I've found a lot of enjoyment in. (Conversely, there's another school of games that are basically the complete opposite, where the mechanics extend little beyond defining certain types of characters, and most of play is heavily drama-driven and/or GM fiated and/or railsy, lest I accidentally give the impression that all Japanese TRPGs are like this). I mentioned this kind of separation in these games a long time ago and someone (I forget who, I apologize) asked me to elaborate, but at the time I couldn't really put it into words. I figured I might finally try to alleviate that debt before storyhyphengamesdotcom goes kaput.