Where are the players?

edited March 2008 in Story Games
I've read mountains of Big Model writing over the past year. And it's just now occurring to me...where are the players? Everything depends on the players and what actions they take and their preferences and personalities, and I don't see them in anywhere in most theory.
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  • edited March 2008
    In terms of the Big Model, the players are doing all the stuff that the model talks about. They're not in the model because they're doing the model.

    Or to be more elaborate, putting the players in any model implies that there are parts of the game experience that the players aren't in -- which is kind of silly, innit?
  • The Big Model is precisely about play itself, as it takes place at the table. Thus, it is 100% "about the players." (Most people miss this and think it's speaking about designers' thinking or how the rules "work.")
  • edited March 2008
    Posted By: Josh Ballistic RobyOr to be more elaborate, putting the players in any model implies that there are parts of the game experience that the players aren't in -- which is kind of silly, innit?
    I don't believe it does imply this. If the players are implicitly contained in everything, then it shouldn't hurt to make that explicit, right? I'm starting to have a strong feeling that keeping the players implied rather than stated is hiding some important bits.

    EDIT: Specifically, I think it's hiding interactions between group members. The Big Model seems to take "the players" as group, that do this Social Contract thing as a group, that Explore as a group, and so forth. To a certain extent, grouping the players together hides the real nature of what's going on: a bunch of individual people are sitting down and interacting.
  • edited March 2008
    Max,

    Can you specify the kind of thing you're looking for? Yes, the group is a bunch of individuals. The model describes what the group is meeting *for*. And layers of processes by which that thing happens.

    For example Creative Agenda doesn't happen on the part of an individual (beyond an individual person's preference for enjoyment when a specific agenda actually does happen). It's a thing which is realized over time through each individual's contribution plus other's appreciation and reaction those contributions. The central thing, idea, source of pleasure, whatever you want to call it, that the group is mutually appreciating, contributing to, and reinforcing is the Creative Agenda.

    Jesse
  • Well...no, not exactly. I'm pointing in a direction, but I don't know what's over there yet. I've spent the past 3 months or so working on my own model, heavily influenced by the Big Model and the flaws I perceive it to have. And Mendel pointed out to me the issue of where the player sits in my model, which I hadn't considered. It's been problematic. And that got me thinking about how TBM handles it, which is to say: it doesn't.

    The assumption of the group functioning in complete accord is built into the model, since it talks about the group as a group. I'm starting to think that's where the conflict about functional non-coherence comes from. It's beginning to seem possible to me, the more I think about people interacting with each other as individuals, rather than this big monolithic group process.
  • Posted By: Josh Ballistic Roby
    Or to be more elaborate, putting the players in any model implies that there are parts of the game experience that the players aren't in -- which is kind of silly, innit?
    Further response to this: there are some parts of the game that some players aren't part of, yes. But TBM hides that with the group assumption.
  • edited March 2008
    Posted By: Max HigleyThe assumption of the group functioning in complete accord is built into the model, since it talks about the group as a group. I'm starting to think that's where the conflict about functional non-coherence comes from. It's beginning to seem possible to me, the more I think about people interacting with each other as individuals, rather than this big monolithic group process.
    For what it's worth, I agree. Big Model tends to assume groupthink, and calls anything else incoherence. I just chalk it up to Big Model describing games that run off of groupthink, and irrelevant elsewhere.
    Posted By: Max Higleythere are some parts of the game that some players aren't part of
    Example?
  • there are some parts of the game that some players aren't part of
    Do you mean like what an individuual is personally imagining?
  • edited March 2008
    Hi Max and Josh...

    I've never assumed "group think" in the model -- but maybe we're drawing the line at scary terms at different places.

    My analogy is always Volleyball. I've played pick up games of volleyball on the beach in Santa Monica. I've noticed there are two broad types: The folks with a competitive edge who want to play the rules; and the "party volleyball" people who just want to knock the ball around (even if that means hitting it 10 times on one side of the net -- which is a big no-no by the rules.)

    These two groups don't play well together. They arrive to do a thing called "volleyball," but have different agendas within that activity. They often frustrate each other (in obvious ways). Now anyone can play either way, and if everyone knows what they're getting into before the game starts there usually isn't a problem. But if people are having a tug of war about what kind of game their playing, it gets frustrating. So, if people knowing what kind of volleyball game they're playing is "group think," give me a membership card to 1984-Land.

    Max, I don't know if you're seen the 2004 diagram that goes with the Big Model, but for me it's a clear illustration of how it's all about a bunch of individuals are doing something as a group -- but as individuals first.

    The notion that sometimes people don't function in complete accord with one another is, frankly, what prompted Ron's work in the first place. His concern has always been: How are the people at the table interacting with the other people at the table. All the Big Model does is say, "Hey, here's the stuff everyone's going to be doing together as people when they play an RPG together." It doesn't assume either a functioning group or a not functioning group. It just says, "Here are the components and activities. By being aware of them and laying them out on the table, we can make choices and not assume anything."

    image
  • Christopher, it's a PDF, you can't insert it as a picture.

    http://indie-rpgs.com/_articles/bigmodelpic.pdf.
  • edited March 2008
    Thanks Guy.

    Strange, my browser must be doing something funny, because it shows up on my screen in the post just fine.
  • Chris has got it pretty straight. But, from another perspective, the original poster is correct in that Ron has clarified that, in fact, TBM is completely unconcerned with things like, "Why player A is playing." It does, in fact, look at roleplaying as a group activity... which it is. Basically TBM says that the personal reasons for play really do not so much matter, as long as they mesh with the overall group reason to play.

    For instance, at the social level, I may be playing because I like Mary. Mary may be playing because she was invited, and likes accepting invitations. Two very different reasons, but the results are not incompatible. On the other hand, if Mary is coming because she feels obliged by invitations, but doesn't really like the activity at hand, we may have a problem.

    On the Creative Agenda level, I may be playing because I like to show off how well I can direct my character to slay orcs. And Mary is playing to show off how well she can do resource management. And this may well be compatible. But if Mary instead wants to play in order to consider her character's very deep feelings about slain orcs, maybe we'll have trouble (note, maybe).

    The reasons why we play are as varied as the multitudinous individuals who play RPGs. Creating a model that accounts for every single player motivation is both pointless and impossible. What TBM does do is to look at how the *behavior* of individual players is either compatible or incompatible with that of others. Observably. That is, the GNS distinctions, as types of Creative Agendas, exist to demark points where people have observed that problems in compatibility tend to show up. Just for agenda, and just for one sort of difference, in the case of GNS.

    So the model gives us a way to discuss the differences between varying sorts of play behaviors, and how well they may work together synergistically, or where the pitfalls may lie.

    No, it's not about individual RPG players alone, but about how groups of players interact, positively and negatively.

    If you play RPGs solo, then TBM does not apply. Starting with there being no social level.

    Mike
  • Posted By: komradebobthere are some parts of the game that some players aren't part of
    Do you mean like what an individuual is personally imagining?
    That's one thing. Another example: five person game. Each scene has only a subset of those people. The same scene will obviously turn out differently if different characters are in the scene, but it will also turn out differently if different players play the same characters. This depends on each players motivations and style and so forth, which I grant are hard to model. But there's a further thing buried in there that TBM actively obscures: if only a subset of the players are involved in a scene, the Social Contract between those players may be different than between the group as a whole.
    Posted By: Christopher KubasikMax, I don't know if you're seen the 2004 diagram that goes with the Big Model, but for me it's a clear illustration of how it's all about a bunch of individuals are doing something as a group -- but as individualsfirst.
    I've spent a large amount of time studying the Big Model classics, including this diagram. I didn't get quite that out of it -- where are the players in the picture? See what I mean? They aren't even depicted.
    Posted By: Christopher KubasikThe notion that sometimes peopledon'tfunction in complete accord with one another is, frankly, what prompted Ron's work in the first place. His concern has always been: How are the people at the table interacting with the other people at the table. All the Big Model does is say, "Hey, here's the stuff everyone's going to be doing together as people when they play an RPG together." It doesn't assume either a functioning group or a not functioning group. It just says, "Here are the components and activities. By being aware of them and laying them out on the table, we can make choices and not assume anything."
    Not acting in complete accord with each other breaks the model. There can no longer be monolithic "The Social Contract," but there may in fact be many pieces of Social Contract between individuals. TBM can't account for that, because it lacks components on the level of one individual player.
    Posted By: Mike HolmesNo, it's not about individual RPG players alone, but about how groups of players interact, positively and negatively.
    What about how individual players interact? Like Abdul and Barbara directly, rather than as "Abdul and Barbara and Cal and Dorothy and Edward"?
    Posted By: Mike HolmesCreating a model that accounts for every single player motivation is both pointless and impossible.
    I take that as high praise for the direction I'm trying to head. That I've been dismissed so stridently makes me feel pretty confident I'm on to something. :)
  • edited March 2008
    Posted By: Max Higley
    I've spent alargeamount of time studying the Big Model classics, including this diagram. I didn't get quite that out of it -- where are the players in the picture? See what I mean? They aren't even depicted.
    That's cool. I mean, I'm looking at "romance," "transportation," "authority" "credibility" "narration" "stance" and more. That stuff can only be done by people, interacting with other people. Nothing there exists without the people. And they exist as individuals interacting with individuals as well as the group. "romance"? "transportation"? "initiative"? Not all of that is going to be one person interacting with the whole group at one time. Right?

    But I didn't mean to imply you hadn't seen it or you haven't slogged through this stuff. When you speak of a "monolithic social contract" my reaction -- "Really? There's a monolithic social contract? I never thought of it that way before." And because I don't think of the model suggesting that (and so no reason why it does) I simply am not getting snagged on something that's snagging you with it. I'm not saying your concern isn't valid. I'm saying I look at that diagram and ask, "Where does it say everyone has worked out everything else with everyone else?" I suppose one could look at it that way. But I don't. (Again, I'm more than willing to assume that Peter and Nancy might have their own romance thing going and no one knows about it yet, or that Lisa and Jennifer were talking one day and decided on their own to bring grilled veggies.)

    The idea that the model assumes that there's one thing going on.... well, I've heard lots of people say things about it that I've never gotten from it. This is one of them, and again, like I said, cool. Sounds like your hunting something down. I hope succeed. Any work we do to understand better what we like to do is a good thing in my book.

    CK
  • Posted By: Max Higley
    Not acting in complete accord with each other breaks the model. There can no longer be monolithic "The Social Contract," but there may in fact be many pieces of Social Contract between individuals. TBM can't account for that, because it lacks components on the level of one individual player.
    I don't quite agree with this. The Social Contract is made up of things like Bob can't narrate rape scenes when Emily's at the table but it's okay if Mary is there. It even extends to things like Bob brings Soda on Wednesday and Joe brings pizza on Tuesdays.

    The "Monolithic" Social Contract is the SUM of all the individual combinatoric social roles each individual player, and each individual combination of players is responsible for.

    I'm with Mike. I don't know if it's pointless but it seems rather impossible to enumerate all those possible sub-interactions across all possible social cultures.

    Jesse
  • No offense taken. There are...others...who are more familiar with the scope of my quest. I expect people here to be largely unaware of it.
    Posted By: Christopher KubasikThat's cool. I mean, I'm looking at "romance," "transportation," "authority" "credibility" "narration" "stance" and more. That stuff can only be donebypeople, interacting with other people. Nothing thereexistswithout the people. And they exist as individuals interacting with individuals as well as the group. "romance"? "transportation"? "initiative"? Not all of that is going to be one person interacting with the whole group at one time. Right?
    Absolutely! There's all kinds of stuff that we can talk about that involves individual players -- where is it on the picture? How does it structurally relate to the other parts of the model? The more I think about that, the more I look at the "the Big Model" as "a decent-sized model with a bunch of random crap thrown in so it looks comprehensive." That's not a knock on the content, which is great in many regards, but it is a knock on the organization of that content, which is to say: there really ain't much organization of all that extra random crap. And I think I know why it's not organized too! Because there's no room for individual player stuff in the overall structure of the model!
  • edited March 2008
    Hi Jesse,

    Again, I question if there is a "monolithic" social contract. I think this is one of those things where we say, "Well, this makes no sense. Look, it says there's a monolithic social contract, and clearly there can't be one."

    To which I would say, "Absolutely correct. There can't be one."

    But I'm looking at the diagram. I'm seeing the top level as "Social Contract Stuff" -- not an actual social contact that the members of the group have all laboriously hammered out agreed to use for all interactions as a group. So, I don't see there diagram saying there is a contract. I'm saying that at that top level there's a bunch of stuff that is negotiated between players (not just player to group) that exists in the field of social contract stuff. That's an important distinction, and might have something to do with why we're seeing the diagram so differently.
  • Posted By: Max HigleyBecause there's no room for individual player stuff in the overall structure of the model!
    Hi Max,

    Again, I get you're seeing it that way. I, um, don't... I see ONLY individual player stuff when I look at the diagram. As you move forward you might want to consider some of us do see containing exactly what you think it is lacking.

    CK
  • Christopher,

    I agree 100% which is why I put quotes around Monolithic.

    Jesse
  • edited March 2008
    Posted By: JesseThe "Monolithic" Social Contract is the SUM of all the individual combinatoric social roles each individual player, and each individual combination of players is responsible for.
    And there's no way we can talk about those individual social roles?
    I'm with Mike. I don't know if it's pointless but it seems rather impossible to enumerate all those possible sub-interactions across all possible social cultures.
    One doesn't need to enumerate them to take them into account. We might talk about types of sub-interactions without covering every infinite possibility, right? In the same way that we can talk about types of Creative Agenda without covering every individual possibility? In other words, is it possible to give people tools to talk about these things in their own social culture? I think it might be. That is, after all, a big chunk of the point of theory...even Big Modelian theory.
  • Posted By: Christopher KubasikAgain, I get you're seeing it that way. I, um, don't... I see ONLY individual player stuff when I look at the diagram. As you move forward you might want to consider some of us do see containing exactly what you think it is lacking.
    In that case, where's the group stuff? Depending on who you ask, one or the other is obscured and hidden from view. And I definitely want to talk about both. So if the structure is purely about individual stuff, there ought to be some pieces that let me talk about purely individual interactions. And if the structure is purely about group stuff, there ought to be some pieces that let me talk about the whole group as a group. I see one or the other, but not both.

    And that's my point -- not that the content is bad, but that the structure doesn't cover as much as it at first seems to.
  • I'm new to all this so could someone post a link to help explain The Big Model to me.
    Thanks.
  • Well, I'm not saying this is going to matter to you (!), but let me re-phrase that with the phrasing I've used in previous posts in this thread:

    I see ONLY individual players interacting with other players when I look at the diagram.

    Romance. Transportation. Initiative. Narration.... all of it. Things that can ONLY involve individuals interacting with other people.

    I really can't see any of those components making any sense any other way.
  • Posted By: tomgI'm new to all this so could someone post a link to help explain The Big Model to me.
    Thanks.
    The best overview of the whole model is here:

    http://indie-rpgs.com/_articles/glossary.html

    For more depth all the articles are here:

    http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/

    In Chronological Order it goes:

    System Does Matter
    GNS and Other Matters
    Simulationism: The Right To Dream
    Gamism: Step On Up
    Narativism: Story Now
  • Hi Tom,

    Jesse has given you the big list. But, especially the last five articles, the focus is on the GNS part of the model. (That was the focus for a long time, though the bigger social aspects where, in my view, the meat and potatoes.)

    Here's a link from the end of 2003 where a lot of people hammer out a conversation on the the Big Model itself..
  • Posted By: Christopher KubasikI see ONLY individual players interacting with other players when I look at the diagram.

    Romance. Transportation. Initiative. Narration.... all of it. Things that can ONLY involve individuals interacting with other people.

    I really can't see any of those components making any sense any other way.
    Naturally these things must involve individuals interacting. But the level of abstraction is a killer. The individuals have largely been abstracted out of the picture, and we end up with Social Contract, and Exploration, and Techniques. I know that there must be people doing these things, but the structure of the model doesn't tell me how. Why not? The structure would need to directly include the players in order to speak with any level of detail about their interactions.

    There's a parallel with how people talk about countries. We say "The United States" and somehow that's subtly different than the "the people of the United States." There actually is a difference between looking at it top down and looking at it bottom up. And I think the same holds true for player interaction in models of roleplaying.
  • edited March 2008
    This isn't quite the same as what Max is saying, but I've been wondering for a while about the role of power dynamics in the Big Model.

    The Big Model's players, insofar as the model represents them, are pretty generic creatures, right? CK and Jesse, what I hear you saying is that even though players aren't actually interchangeable atoms, their variations aren't significant on the scale that the model is working at. You can leave the variations to the realm of particular examples rather than incorporating the differences between players into the more abstract level of the model itself.

    The problem with that is that it draws attention away from the fact that players are not equal, interchangable bits. There are power dynamics between players that aren't very well suggested by the term "social contract," because they're not necessarily intentional or consensual. Or if they are, certain players have more clout in (re)negotiating the social contract than others do. Other power dynamics are emergent: if I'm talking about game to two players who aren't talking much about game to each other, I may have more influence in maintaining or disrupting the game's status quo.

    I assume I'm not the first one to bring this up. Given that a number of Forge games have mechanics that seem intended to protect (certain kinds of) equality between (some) players and tend to look at conflict mechanics as ways of negotiating between player interests (?), I assume I may be wrong in seeing power dynamics as de-emphasized in the Big Model. But I haven't been around long enough to see this stuff discussed, so I'm curious about what seems to be a mismatch between what the model draws attention to and other stuff that's come out of the Forge. Feel free to point me somewhere else.
  • Guys, the Big Model isn't the best thing for every situation. It is not the exhaustive descriptor of all roleplaying ever. It has blind spots. It does not cover everything.

    One of those things is the means to get all the players on the same page. It assumes that you have already done that through whatever means you elect to use. It does not have any advice or any analysis on how to make that happen.

  • One of those things is the means to get all the players on the same page. It assumes that you have already done that through whatever means you elect to use. It does not have any advice or any analysis on how to make that happen.
    Yes. This is true. If this is what Max has been talking about then, okay I'm cool with discussing that. However, I think if that's what we're discussing then we're outside the specific realm of role-playing and inside the realm of ALL social gatherings.

    Frankly I'm fond of the, "I'm doing THIS, who's with me!" approach.

    Jesse
  • edited March 2008
    Posted By: schlafmankoCK and Jesse, what I hear you saying is that even though players aren't actually interchangeable atoms, their variations aren't significant on the scale that the model is working at.
    Hi Christina,

    Actually, what I would say (in regard to this point) is that the variations can be pretty huge. But there are specific points of contact where -- say, the RPGPundit and I -- would meet if we had to get together and play together. That's what the Big Model covers.

    Now, just because the Big Model lists those points, does that mean the RPGPundit and I would have an easy time of it? No, of course not. And let me be clear -- no.

    But are we really expecting something that can fit on a web page to not only list those points of contact, but also explain how two people with such different temperaments about games, life and how one communicates with people are going to successfully navigate in a game together (if such navigation is possible at all?)

    Again, I don't see how anything (power dynamics, in this case) are de-emphasized. The Big Model doesn't say, "This is how things work when they're working well." Its says, "All this stuff is going on all the time -- whether it's going well or not." Issues of romance, food, who gets to talk when, who long someone talks -- all of it -- it's always happening whether to good effect or ill. That is the emphasis.

    If I'm not mistaken (and I might be), this where there some cognitive dissonance (for me at least) is coming from. I might be mistaken, but some people seem to be thinking that Big Model is saying, "Do this, and all is well." And then, rightly, they add, "But that's not enough!"

    To which I would reply, "Yes, but that's not what the model is saying. It isn't saying, 'This is how you make a good game session run.' The model is saying, 'This is happening. Acknowledge it, own it, and make decisions about it. Because this stuff happen in an RPG not matter what -- and it will either work well for your group, or badly.'"

    And while I applaud anyone who wants to make the effort to nail all the other stuff down to somehow make sure Christopher Kubasik and the RPGPundit would have a good time together at a gaming table, I call that practical application of getting that stuff right "Life" and think it's a really, really big topic. It depends on variables and behaviors of human beings -- who are crazy complicated in terms of taste, history, expectations, and the almost alchemical mixing of one person with another when they meet in the same room. It's everything about life from marriages, to class rooms, to the work place, to dating and so on.

    I'm not trying to stop anyone from going down that road. I'm just saying, that's not what the model sets out to do -- and it doesn't attempt to do it, in my opinion, for good reasons.

    CK
  • edited March 2008
    Posted By: Christopher KubasikIf I'm not mistaken (and I might be), this where there some cognitive dissonance (for me at least) is coming from. I might be mistaken, but some people seem to be thinking that Big Model is saying, "Do this, and all is well." And then, rightly, they add, "But that's not enough!"
    The biggest error that people have when encountering the Big Model is to overapply it. It's actually rather narrow in scope.
    Posted By: Mike HolmesCreating a model that accounts for every single player motivation is both pointless and impossible.
    Posted By: JesseYes. This is true. If this is what Max has been talking about then, okay I'm cool with discussing that. However, I think if that's what we're discussing then we're outside the specific realm of role-playing and inside the realm of ALL social gatherings.
    Frankly I'm fond of the, "I'm doing THIS, who's with me!" approach.
    I just don't buy this. That the BM doesn't cover this stuff, sure, fine. But to say that doing anything that the Big Model doesn't already do is an exercise in futility is just... silly. I think there's a lot of very interesting territory beyond the Big Model's borders and within the specific scope of roleplaying. It doesn't jump from Big Model to the universe; there's lots of stuff to talk about. For instance -- more adept techniques beyond "I'm doing THIS, who's with me!" which has, let's face it, a pretty high failure rate.
  • Posted By: Josh Ballistic Roby
    I just don't buy this. That the BM doesn't cover this stuff, sure, fine. But to say that doing anything that the Big Model doesn't already do is an exercise in futility is just... silly. I think there's a lot of very interesting territory beyond the Big Model's borders and within the specific scope of roleplaying. It doesn't jump from Big Model to the universe; there's lots of stuff to talk about. For instance -- more adept techniques beyond "I'm doing THIS, who's with me!" which has, let's face it, a pretty high failure rate.
    I don't think I was clear. I'm not saying discussing stuff like methodologies for getting people creatively on the same page is futile. I think I AM saying that whatever it is you are discussing will fall WITHIN the Big Model somewhere and not be an addition to it. Like taking any of the big categories (Social Contract, Ephemera, Techniques, etc) and zooming in on them.

    Doing that is a GOOD idea. There's stuff like that all over The Forge (and here) all the time. Like the poorly named "GM Tasks" which aren't part of the model but are part of Zooming in on Techniques of The Big Model.

    Discussing the effects of visual aids at the table? Let's do it! But it's still an application of Ephemera.
    Discussing what happens to the game when Bob and Jane's relationship is falling apart? Awesome! But it's still an application of the Social Contract.

    We wouldn't be talking about something "not in the model" we would be talking about the specifics of things within an area of the model. Which again is good! We should be doing this.

    Now does there exist whole new areas that WOULD constitute an addition to the model? Maybe. But I'm hard pressed to think of it.

    Jesse
  • To be clear, I think that there are bezillions of things that the Big Model doesn't do that can be done. Probaby should be. I was, in fact, pointing out the very small limits of the model. So claiming that I'm saying that other things can't be done is ridiculous.

    For instance, take a look at the work Mendel and others have done in terms of looking at RPGs from a focus of seeing them as learning/teaching activities. Again, I think this is a behavioral model, or at least one that takes certain motives for granted as a basis for beginging - so I don't see it as a counter-example.

    Now, if this is the sort of thing that Max is looking for (or something as limited in scope), then I think he has great prospects. I was then under the mistaken impression that he was trying to come up with a model that tried to take into account all possible player motivations. Something that I and others have tried with no success to date. Though even that's not to say that it's impossible, just that I'm highly skeptical, I guess.

    Anyhow, my point was far less that Max shouldn't investigate these things, than that expecting the Big Model to be something it doesn't intend to be is... well it's barking up the wrong tree. Yes, if you want to look at individual players, you're going to have to build a new model.

    Go for it.

    Mike
  • I think Jesse and Mike are in agreement with Josh's useful clarification.

    I wanted to say, "Me, too." I think Jesse especially summed it up for me.

    CK
  • edited April 2008
    Posted By: Christopher KubasikAgain, I don't see how anything (power dynamics, in this case) are de-emphasized. The Big Model doesn't say, "This is how things work when they're working well." Its says, "All this stuff is going onall the time-- whether it's going well or not." Issues of romance, food, who gets to talk when, who long someone talks -- all of it -- it's always happening whether to good effect or ill. That is the emphasis.
    Thanks! That may have been the problem. For clarification: Suppose you have an understanding within your group that you're going to treat each other a certain way, but despite the group's best intentions, no one can follow it for long. Also suppose that not following it inherently advantages certain people and disadvantages others. So some people get hurt, the understanding is reaffirmed, and the cycle repeats. Is engaging in the undesirable interactions we haven't agreed on and are trying to prevent as much a part of the social contract as the interactions we've agreed on and are trying to foster? It sounds like the answer is yes, from this and other stuff I've looked at.
  • edited April 2008
    Posted By: Josh Ballistic RobyThe biggest error that people have when encountering the Big Model is to overapply it. It's actually rather narrow in scope.
    Posted By: Josh Ballistic RobyGuys, the Big Model isn't the best thing for every situation. It is not the exhaustive descriptor of all roleplaying ever. It has blind spots. It does not cover everything.
    So then...those blind spots? We should be able to do something about those. For example, we could add some additional structure.
    Posted By: JesseI AM saying that whatever it is you are discussing will fall WITHIN the Big Model somewhere and not be an addition to it. Like taking any of the big categories (Social Contract, Ephemera, Techniques, etc) and zooming in on them.
    Posted By: JesseNow does there exist whole new areas that WOULD constitute an addition to the model? Maybe. But I'm hard pressed to think of it.
    Where's immersion in this model? Can we even talk about individual subjective experiences with it? Or, what about individual player preferences? They can be negotiated into the Social Contract, but they also affect the course of play while play is happening.
    Posted By: Christopher KubasikAgain, I don't see how anything (power dynamics, in this case) are de-emphasized. The Big Model doesn't say, "This is how things work when they're working well." Its says, "All this stuff is going onall the time-- whether it's going well or not." Issues of romance, food, who gets to talk when, who long someone talks -- all of it -- it's always happening whether to good effect or ill. That is the emphasis.
    Just because power dynamics aren't explicitly mentioned as not going on doesn't mean they aren't deemphasized. Sure, we can talk about a lot of things within the context of the Big Model, but we can only talk about a very limited set with the structure of the Big Model. To make a ridiculous analogy, we can talk about street lights in the context of a model of democracy, but there's no structure in the model that helps us do so. Same deal with the Big Model -- we can talk about power dynamics sure, but the structure has almost nothing there that helps us do it. My contention is that it could, if someone cared to make it so.

    And I do.
  • Hi Christina,

    Yes. That's how I look at social contract, at least. The social contract is all interactions between the group, either as explicit agreements, or simply the behaviors that exist between people. We can all agree to whatever we want, and then there's what people do. If the group exists as a group, and a kind of behavior continues, it's social contract. Some groups end up in constant cycles of post-game debriefings where frustrations are aired, promises are made, behind-the-back discussions about other players continue -- all in the name of "fixing" the game or making better play in the future. Sometimes the goal is to make play better. But in my own observations, those discussions are part of the pay-off of the social experience. The debriefings, frustration and gossip are all part of the social agreement -- though most folks wouldn't see it as such.

    CK
  • I dunno. To continue to use analogies, it's like you've said that this telescope which we use to see things far away needs to have a broader field of view so that we can see peripherial things. Well I suppose that might be useful, but then it's not a telescope any more. I wouldn't be sure what that was, or why we'd need it (though that's not to say it couldn't be valuable).

    What I'm saying is that trying to modify the telescope to get it to do what you want it to do may not be nearly as efficient as starting over from scratch and building the tool you need. The telescope seems to work just fine for what it was designed for, and doesn't seem to me to need any improvement for that.

    On the other hand, if all you can think about is the telescope as a starting point, then I suppose you have no choice. Or if you have a way to build off of the telescope that's effective for what you need, already, then great. Are you at that point? Or are you looking at the Big Model as a leaping-off point now?

    Mike
  • edited April 2008
    Posted By: Christopher KubasikYes. That's how I look at social contract, at least. The social contract is all interactions between the group, either as explicit agreements, or simply the behaviors that exist between people. We can all agree to whatever we want, and then there's what peopledo. If the group exists as a group, and a kind of behavior continues, it's social contract. Some groups end up in constant cycles of post-game debriefings where frustrations are aired, promises are made, behind-the-back discussions about other players continue -- all in the name of "fixing" the game or making better play in the future. Sometimes the goal is to make play better. But in my own observations, those discussions are part of the pay-off of the social experience. The debriefings, frustration and gossip are all part of the social agreement -- though most folks wouldn't see it as such.
    I was nodding along until I got to the last sentence, because up until that point, I was thinking, "Okay, so social contract is just bad terminology for something that includes both consensual and nonconsensual elements." But you're saying that labeling the whole social context as "social contract" really does imply that all behavior in a group is consensual?

    Treating all power dynamics as ultimately consensual undercuts the fact that they're power dynamics. It's like saying that rape and abuse can't occur within a marriage, because marriage itself is a consensual relationship and if neither spouse has left it yet, then they've both agreed to that treatment. There's some truth in that -- "Why haven't you left yet?" is an important question to ask. But let's not say everything that happens up until the moment of departure is consensual. And if something happens that forestalls departure, let's not make everything up to that point retroactively consensual. Collapsing all of the other factors that lead people to accept unequal situations and then tacking on "but ultimately both parties are equal and it's all consensual" is pretty dismissive to the difficulties of people in those circumstances. That kind of response also makes it harder to recognize how the victims' social identities and imagined spheres of action were produced through the context of unequal relationships. And if everyone decides to stay, it's hard not to equate "it's all consensual" with "if you stay, you're accepting what's going on and therefore it's not really a problem for you, is it?" In that sense, the reasons that it's a common mistake to think that the big model refers only to what happens when a game is going well isn't just a reader error. It's an interpretive potential built into how the model is structured.

    Admittedly the ties that keep people in their gaming groups are lighter than marriage, and the power dynamics that take place in gaming groups aren't exactly tantamount to rape. But lumping these sorts of abuses together under the heading of 'agreed upon social contract' trivializes them in the same way. There's an ideological component there regarding personal responsibility -- it's maybe not a very controversial one in the case of gaming, but it is there.

    If you take the consensual as your model for all social relationships within a game, the nonconsensual is deemphasized, and with it the players who repeatedly get the short end of the stick and whose experiences aren't a matter of unambiguous rational consent. Clearly you can fit that into the big model if you want to. But because here players appear only as inherently equal agents, the social contract level of the model seems to be more conducive to one analytic approach to the situation than others: Why haven't you been able to change your situation? Why haven't you left yet?

    (Uh, that approach does have a lot to recommend it. My point is just that it would give a certain slant to analyses of group dynamics, and if you agree with what I'm saying, that that slant represents a certain kind of disappearance of players. But I'm making this argument mostly in an exploratory sense. I don't really have any stakes in it, so don't feel obliged to reply unless it's an interesting discussion for you.)
  • I'm really saying something more like: The Big Model is sort of like a magnifying glass -- with it we can magnify the surface features of roleplaying a bit to see them, and maybe poke them around a bit. But with a sensitive microscope, we'll be able to see things that still weren't visible with a magnifying glass. We'll be able to see deeper, toward finer and finer structures. Depth and periphery are almost diametric opposites, but it's never-the-less easy to confuse them -- particularly if the current model seems plenty deep enough to you.
    Posted By: Mike HolmesOn the other hand, if all you can think about is the telescope as a starting point, then I suppose you have no choice. Or if you have a way to build off of the telescope that's effective for what you need, already, then great. Are you at that point? Or are you looking at the Big Model as a leaping-off point now?
    Already done it, but without realizing the importance of including players and perspectives -- precisely because I did start with the Big Model, and attempt to redress what I perceive to be its flaws (and rather successfully, I believe.) Some of the prelims are over on KF under the title "Integral Model." I'm revising now to remedy this player issue, which I'm maybe half-way done with, and waiting to hear Mendel's comments on it. The project is taking some thought, but I'm liking what's coming out of it. When I'm ready to release it into the wild, SG will be the first to know! In the meantime, I wanted to share my observation about there being no structure that explicitly points out where the players are and why they matter -- it hit me like a lightning bolt when I realized that. Implied everywhere, explicit nowhere. Weird, huh?
  • Okay, like I wrote this blog post about my Social-Play Model a week ago, and just found this conversation. Coolness. (And more posts there about my take on GNS and Creative Agenda and resolution.)

    The Big Model as described by Ron as a sort of Venn diagram doesn't give a shit about where the players are. It's a model of observable structures of an instance of play. It assumes players exist because you can't have an instance of play without players.

    Is that viewpoint useful for everything? I don't think so, and that's why I formulated my Social-Play Model, which looks at play from the standpoint of interaction between players, playspace, and social contract. I think my model is a superset of The Big Model, so it might be useful for unifying The Big Model with some other people's models (sockets, conP3, or whatever they're called).

    I'm only now starting to explore the implications of my model. I'm hoping I can use it to show why people get confused during play, why System Matters, and things like that.
  • edited April 2008
    I'm intrigued by your model Adam. I suggest that in the very near future, your model and my model ought to have a walk-off. ;)

    I suspect the central insights of both can be unified into some sort of super-model -- which would be really cool, since both already include most of the Big Model. Mendel's PCon3 has some cool things to say too, which are at least in part covered by this Integral Model I've been working on. Sockets however perplex me.
  • It's funny, but I'm not usually one of those people who claim that folks are acting all victimized - I think often folks have real gripes.

    But in this case, the idea that the Big Model doesn't show why players matter... that's like saying physics doesn't say why matter is important. It's a model about play... which means players playing. It's wholly engrossed in what players are doing. Saying that the Big Model is somehow discounting players is... just silly. It doesn't speak to their individual motives, no. But that's not like saying that it doesn't assume that they have any.

    Mike
  • Like I said, the players are implied everywhere, explicit nowhere. The issue of "Shared" Imagined Space versus "Un-shared" Imagined Space is an issue where the lack of explicit structure in the model that deals with individual players as individuals hides part of the process. There are others.
  • I've found that just making explicit what everyone is already thinking helps form new thought. I know a lot of people think visually. Seeing a picture with "play" and "players" on it changes a lot -- mentally and politically.
  • Max... this is a really pointless discussion. The question of just what you're trying to do, and how it fits in with the Big Model can only be political, or identity politics. Just do it, come up with your ideas, and we'll see what they mean, if anything, to the Big Model. My point is that they'll probably be interesting on their own, so why worry about whether or not they're fixing some problem in the Big Model or not? Does that matter? Or just what the ideas can do for us?

    Apollogies if I've missed it, but do you have a link to anywhere where you're elucidating your actual thoughts on the subject? More deeply than "There are players, and we need to look at them."

    Mike
  • My point was to share a thought. I am not my identity anyway, so identity politics are rather immaterial. I base my thought on the Big Model precisely because it is the most comprehensive picture we've got. It's highly valuable for exactly that reason, and so it is unfortunate that questioning it paints me as a detractor. I like the Big Model -- as a starting point.

    Here are some of my preliminary thoughts on revisions to the Big Model (they're on KF, so they won't be accessible to all, but for now it will have to do.) Two points: First, this whole train of thought has undergone massive revision for consistency over the past months, and so, if you spot problems, it's highly possible I've already addressed them. With upcoming revisions, the document outlining my model should weigh in at around 30 pages or so. Mendel's got it right now, and I hope to get his feedback in the near future; with that, it will be ready to be released into the wild. Second, for the same reason -- the presentation I linked is outdated -- it doesn't include players explicitly. I've just reached the conclusion that it needs to, so that's a revision still in progress. Still, since we're dealing with orienting generalizations anyway, the basic method of including players goes like this:

    There are a number of layers to this model, similar to the Big Model layers, but rearranged to reflect a hierarchy of dependence. Because the higher layers depend on lower layers, if you remove a particular layer, you will destroy all higher layers without affecting any of the lower layers. We can use this as a test to decide which layers are higher up (more significant) and which are lower down (more fundamental.) The higher layers depend on, and thus include, the lower layers. I'll forgo a discussion of why I believe each thing depends on the previous for the moment, and simply present the hierarchy I arrived at:

    (most fundamental, least inclusive)
    Foundation (contains Social Contract, goals, permissions and expectations, and other stuff)
    Ephemera (contains moment to moment statements, actions, feelings/responses, and so forth)
    Authentication (contains System and other stuff)
    Exploration (contains "the fiction" and the SIS and other stuff)
    Constellation (contains patterns expressed in fiction -- one of the CA definitions)
    (most significant, most inclusive)

    You may be wondering "Why does he keep saying 'and other stuff'?" I've applied a four quadrant split along "individual/collective" and "inside/outside" axes to each of these layers, and many quadrants simply do not have Big Model equivalent terms. Regardless, you only get moment to moment statements once you make some agreements about how to play, you only authenticate fictional elements into our shared imagining on the back of statements that are made, you only get fiction by using some authentication (System), and you only get patterns like "simulative value" or "addressing a premise" as a pattern in the fictional events that occur. There's much more to the dependence between layers because there's much more to the layers, but each one does indeed depend upon the previous.

    Now, where are the players? Well, it's strikingly simple. Each thing in the Foundation layer depends on the players, so the players must be more fundamental. There is no Social Contract if you remove the players, because the players underlie the Social Contract. That means that players are "contained" in Foundation, in Ephemera, in Authentication, and so forth. So the relationship between players as individuals is a horizontal relationship in the "Player level" at the most fundamental end, while a player's relationship to a statement they make (an Ephemera) is a vertical containment relation. This goes a long way to explaining why players have different perspectives on the statements that are made too: one of the players has their own internal subjective perspective because they are literally inside the Ephemera, while the others are viewing only its outside surface. I believe including players in this fashion will lead to further insight regarding perspectives -- or considering perspectives will lead to further insight into players. Probably both.

    That's a radically condensed version of what I've been working on, but perhaps a taste will convince you that I'm not just randomly bashing the Big Model to further my own identity-political agenda.
  • Sorry if I am missing a lot of background here, but can someone help me out? What is the value of these models?

    Productive possibilities I can think of include:
    Aiding game design
    Understanding why particular problems cropped up in actual play
    Setting player expectations, to improve the game
    Providing a standard vocabulary
    etc.
    Unproductive ones include:
    It's fun to make models
    Everything needs a definition
    Now we sound like we're social scientists
    etc.

    Assuming that people interested in these models are interested in the productive uses -- do they actually work? Have the models helped with solving particular problems?

    Steven
  • I think the Big Model has accomplished in part all of the things you list as productive uses. I hope to be able to further those aims, as well as deepen my understanding of the process. Awareness itself is transformative, in my experience.
  • Heh, yeah, you hit them pretty well, Steven. Let me give you an example of each:

    Design: As we disected the parts of play that included "who does what" in terms of GM roles and player roles with regards to the model, a colleague of mine (Ralph Mazza) and I came up with a reapportionment of authority in our design of a game called Universallis. We wouldn't have thought to do this reapportionment had we not had the model (and it's attendant discussions) to refer to in terms of thinking about how play happens between the players. These discussions revolved around questions of things termed with Jargon like "Authority" and "Credibility" etc.

    Understanding Problems: Everyone has had the experience (recently referenced in another thread) where "The Assasin kills The Palladin" much to everyone's disgust. The problem here is what's termed "incoherence" of play styles. In understanding what the players are individually after, we can see how the conflicts occur between the players in the example cases. And, yes...

    Setting Expectations: if you understand these issues you can set expectations so that player interests to not conflict. You can do this through what the model calls techniques or ephemera, but you can also incentivize these things mechanically, and we're back to supporting design again.

    Vocabulary: in any case these concepts are difficult to discuss. And previous jargon is badly flawwed ("Roll-playing vs Role-Playing). These models hopefully provide a non-loaded jargon that facilitates understanding amongst those that understand the jargon.

    There are many other advantages, too. I can tell you that, prior to understanding my own play proclivities, I had no idea what techniques I should be using to promote the sort of play that I like. And, since discovering these techniques, my play has gone from causing introspective bouts of self-doubt about whether RPG play and I were compatible, to being absolutely in love with it every time I play. Erasing two decades of problematic play from my soul.

    I can't tell you how valuable that's been.


    Note that jargon also neccessarily alienates people who do not understand the jargon, especially where it looks like it has an easily understood meaning, but does not. That's an unfortunate side-effect, but one that our community (and I mean the Forge community of theorists mostly) have been willing to put up with in order that we be able to communicate more effectively. We suffer through attacks that range from labeling us elitist to saying that we have an ivory tower mentality (or, worse, cult), but, oh well. People who don't find it productive should just ignore us.

    I don't care what we "sound" like, I just like that these models help us understand play.


    I'm very much looking forward to what Max comes out with. Or any theorist.

    Mike
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