A Matrix of Self-Sacrifice

edited December 2007 in Story Games
So, inspired by Jason Morningstar's comment on the suicide thread, I've been thinking about self-sacrifice (not suicide) as a game element. Not necessarily a new mechanic or anything, but just musing about the concept in general. That lead me in some potentially-neat directions.

First, I thought about the basic sense of "self-sacrifice:" You're hurt or killed in order to help someone else out. But, then I started thinking about some other ways of thinking that, and I came up with this matrix while walking home yesterday [Edited for clarity: which is only about the results of self-sacrifice]:
Helper is harmedHelper comes out unscatched
Action is helpfulTypically what we thing about "self-sacrifice"Moments where the Helper is lucky
Action is unhelpfulTragic futility of action, though the Helper isn't around to experience itThe same futility, only able to be experienced in full by the Helper
But then I chewed on how that might not match intent, and here's where segments of this could match up with truly suicidal actions. Here's a matrix of intent:
Helper wants to surviveHelper is apathetic about survivalHelper wants to be harmed
Helper wants helpfulness to succeedThe standard intent most folks have when they want to accomplish somethingThis is a "typical" zone of self-sacrifice, though it can drift into "wants to survive, but knows it won't happen" territory.The Helper embraces self-destruction for a positive goal
Helper does not care about helpfulnessHere's here the Helper might actually not be trying to help someone else, but might end up doing so anyway.Nearly true apathy, maybe? It's hard to see this as action, but it could be deliberate non-action, like deciding to stop running and let yourself be bait, maybe buying someone else time. *shrug* That could get into the next category.Here's where the ugly side of self-destruction rears its head, where the goal is to be harmed or killed for its own "reward." (And that's where suicide comes in.)
I don't know if this is helpful or strikes thoughts with others or if I'm off-base with this, but I figured I'd share it. For me, the interesting parts start when you map various intentions to various results.

What do ya'll think?

Comments

  • I like the part where the helper wants to be harmed. In the first option, I can see characters going for that when they want to get redemption, or make up for previous transgressions or simply show heroism. On the second option though, why would someone go after that?
  • "Helper is apathetic about survival" + "Helper wants helpfulness to succeed" could also be "Helper cares much, much more about the folks he's helping than his own well-being, though not to where he actively wants is own destruction." Think about a mother saving her children and potential cost of her own well-being.

    "Helper is apathetic about survival" + "Helper does not care about helpfulness" could also be "The Helper's spirit is broken. The non-action taken might map to a self-sacrifice result, but self-sacrifice isn't the intent at all."

    But it's a weird category. Honestly, it was when I chewed on that category that I figured it was worth posting.
  • I was talking about the ''Helper wants to be harmed'' categories. The apathetic ones are interesting, but I got those.
  • The Helper embraces self-destruction for a positive goal = martyrdom

    I think it's perfectly OK to have categories that are unproductive and non-gamey. Does not care/apathetic is just somebody who is in the way, shell-shocked, a victim.
  • Oh! Sorry, I misunderstood "second option." Okay, so, for "Helper wants to be harmed" + "Helper does not care about helpfulness," this isn't a sane thing to pick. This is either suicide or a lesser form of self-destruction. As I said in the other thread, suicide is ultimately a selfish act of escape, and people don't pick it in usual circumstances. Often, desperation or self-loathing are required to get that far.

    So, let's take that idea, and have that be the intent behind an action. It's not a "self-sacrifice" action, but here's where it could get interesting: happenstance could cause it so that the result of that action benefits someone else. Take a dinosaur survival horror story -- a character just lost his wife and child to the beasts, and he's with a group that's running to the boats when he trips and falls. That's the last straw, and he just decides to not get up. This isn't because he wants to buy time for the rest of the group, but just because he's capital-D-Done. However, that action does result in buying time for the group. His suicide has had the effect of self-sacrifice, even though that wasn't even part of the initial action. That's where the second category comes in -- but it's not something someone chooses in intent if the want to aid someone, almost by definition.
  • Posted By: Ryan Macklin

    So, let's take that idea, and have that be the intent behind an action. It's not a "self-sacrifice" action, but here's where itcouldget interesting: happenstance could cause it so that theresultof that action benefits someone else. Take a dinosaur survival horror story -- a character just lost his wife and child to the beasts, and he's with a group that's running to the boats when he trips and falls. That's the last straw, and he just decides to not get up. This isn't because he wants to buy time for the rest of the group, but just because he's capital-D-Done. However, that actiondoes result inbuying time for the group. His suicide has had the effect of self-sacrifice, even though that wasn't even part of the initial action. That's where the second category comes in -- but it's not something someone chooses in intent if thewantto aid someone, almost by definition.
    Isn't that apathetic about survival though? :P
  • edited December 2007
    No, that's actively wanting his death. That's not apathy.

    Edit: Gut reaction. Uh, okay, maybe it is apathy. I have to rethink that.

    Edit edit: Okay, add to it that he shouts at the monsters to eat him, because he really wants to die. No longer apathetic.
  • I really like the second one.

    Instead of apathetic I would use ambivalent. Because for helpfulness, it highlights that the helper really wants to survive and really wants to help, but making the drive to help slightly more causes them to act.

    For not caring about being helpful, the the torn emotions might be just about not wanting to survive and wanting to survive, which could be for the reasons Jason gets into, or something else, and they act for a variety of reasons, such as wanting to make a statement or just do something, regardless of whether it's effective. Which could include giving up and "non-action".
  • edited December 2007
    I think there's two categories to "ambivalent" or "apathetic."

    1. The person who attempts an action knowing full well it could be harmful/deadly, but feels the risk is worth the benefits, or is willing to die.
    (this probably requires a chance of making it through, though, right?)
    [risk-benefit analysis category]

    2. The person who doesn't so much want to die, they just don't want to make the choice anymore. Fleeing from anger and eating the gun are both conscious choices. Giving up and allowing someone/something else (including fate/chance) to decide your fate for you is different from the above category, as it's more of a "non-action," although playing a round or two of Russian roulette falls in this category (#2), as does giving up in the face of adversity.
    [surrender of decision-making category]
  • I've been pondering that divide, Johnstone, and I wasn't sure if that would be splitting hairs too much to be useful. The surrendering element is interesting, and I hadn't thought about it in quite those terms.

    It also occurs to me that the "clean" box model is broken if we look at one box in particular: "Helper wants to survive" + "Helper wants helpfulness to succeed" -- to relating those two intents:

    "Helper wants to survive" > "Helper wants helpfulness to succeed" -- The Helper wants to help, but his own survival is paramount, so if there's a situation where he has to be harmed for help to succeed, it won't happen. So, this isn't self-sacrifice unless he ends up getting harmed anyway, but is able to pull off helpfulness in spite of that. But, again, he'll avoid that situation, so self-sacrifice won't be intentional.

    "Helper wants to survive" = "Helper wants helpfulness to succeed" -- Honestly, my brain is a bit fried here, and can't think of a good example.

    "Helper wants to survive" < "Helper wants helpfulness to succeed" -- This, I think, is the classic "mother saving her child" scenario, rather than what I proposed above. Sure, she wants to survive, but getting her child to survive is more important. Without harm, this is merely a "selfless act," but with harm it becomes "self-sacrifice." We could even call this something like "constructive self-sacrifice," opposed to the "destructive self-sacrifice" that is just giving up and letting yourself be eaten by the monster in order to intentionally buy time for others -- the key difference here being on the "intent with survival" axis.

    But, I'm also kinda tired, so maybe I'm deconstructing this too much.
  • Ryan, I find the best policy is to take hair-splitting as far as it can go, then go back and edit out what isn't needed.

    For rules that might help you out - see the rules for magic in Unknown Armies, especially Entropomancy (self-risk), and Epideromancy (self-harm), and also the suicide rules in the Burning Wheel setting Under a Serpent Sun (hey nice interview in ep20 btw), which are not exactly self-sacrifice, but definitely show a benefit for purely self-destructive suicide.

    Surrendering to chance would be perfect for gaming, seeing as players do this all the time with their characters - putting their character's life into the hands of the dice. Modeling game mechanics to play on that isn't much of a conceptual stretch.
  • Posted By: johnstoneRyan, I find the best policy is to take hair-splitting as far as it can go, then go back and edit out what isn't needed.
    My only reservation is getting too hung up on how hairs are split and whatnot. But in general I agree with that process.

    You're definitely speaking my language by mentioning Unknown Armies, but that brings up a different can of worms, where self-sacrifice = self-empowerment, opposed to the earlier assuming of self-sacrifice = benefit to another. I also find that idea of equating surrendering to rolling the dice utterly fascinating. Man, that's good stuff.

    (I'm glad you enjoyed MP #20. It was pretty eye-opening to hear Luke speak on the subject. But there wasn't any self-sacrifice there. ;)
  • And how about self-sacrifice by the character vs self-sacrifice by the player? eh?
  • Actually, I'm interested in laying down a foundation first about in-fiction elements first. After that, examining player-based reasons and mapping that to the fiction could be interesting.
  • I think that the "apathetic" category should get replaced by "Willing to risk own survival".

    Because apathetic and willfully self-harming aren't all that different in play.
    The three categories stirke me as being Don't Wanna Die! / I'm Willing to Do What It Takes. / Whatever. Life Sucks.
  • Posted By: johnstoneI think there's two categories to "ambivalent" or "apathetic."
    I disagree. I think your #1 is ambivalent, and your #2 is apathetic. They aren't in anyway synonymous, which is why I prefer ambivalent, it has a drive beneath it.

    However, I think the semantics probably aren't important. The end result, Ryan, is I think those two results in that middle column are good ones. Regardless of whether you say apathetic, ambivalent, doesn't care or "willing to die" (the last one I like, since willing to die doesn't have to mean wants to die), the flavor text in the box is on target.
  • Posted By: joepubBecause apathetic and willfully self-harming aren't all that different in play.
    Maybe. But, to get all extreme here (X-treme Sacrifice! Watch as Air Macklin does a curly 360 table-cross sacred cow sacrifice!), apathetic is "Whatever. Life Sucks." and willfully self-harming as "Do Wanna Die!"

    Hmm. Yeah, I guess that is pretty much the same -- maybe a somewhat different headspace for the character, but the same intent for these purposes. And I like the simplified English in your titles, Joe. Actually, maybe "I'm Willing To Do What It Takes" includes willful self-harm.
  • I think it's also about rewards.

    The first column is rewarded with survival and immunity.
    The second column SHOULD BE rewarded with achievement and risk/reward ratio.
    The third column is rewarded by damage dealt and impact seen.
  • Joe, that matrix is suppose to be about intent, not about what actually happens. Though, seeing it as a "this is what I want my reward to be as a player" could be another way to view it.
  • Posted By: Alvin FrewerPosted By: johnstoneI think there's two categories to "ambivalent" or "apathetic."
    I disagree. I think your #1 is ambivalent, and your #2 is apathetic. They aren't in anyway synonymous, which is why I prefer ambivalent, it has a drive beneath it.

    Absolutely. There is no disagreement here. You just make my point better/simpler than me.
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