The Fruitless Structure.

edited February 2009 in Story Games
Barry Schwartz on TED had some interesting things to say about using rules and rewards to motivate people - and where it stops working.

Yes, it's framed in a larger social context. But, still, it makes me puzzle a bit. Until, well, my puzzler is sore.

Basically, it boils down to this:

When you reward a behaviour, or create a mechanism, people will often become blind to the actual virtue being rewarded or the thing the mechanism supports - they just see the reward and the mechanism, and act accordingly based on those things.

In my head, this is the opposite of the fruitful void idea - the fruitless structure.

And I keep thinking "Hey, I've seen that in gaming". But I wanted to throw it at the wall, see if it sticks.

So, people of the wall.

Does that resonate with you? How so, or not so?
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Comments

  • Related note: intermittent rewards are psychologically more powerful than guaranteed, systematic rewards. That's what makes Las Vegas work. Also in dog training: You don't give the treat every time, otherwise they will not behave correctly in the absence of the treat.

    p.
  • Also related: The concept of ad-blindness.
  • edited February 2009
    We stumbled across this a bit in Making Things Hard on your Character: the Boundary of the Czege Principle.

    I read In a Wicked Age... as using the Owe list as an incentive for using your weak stats; this actually produces suboptimal play. What works better, apparently, is just playing and picking what stats are most appropriate to the immediate situation, and if you get on the Owe list, great, but if not, no big deal. Trying to play 'incentive-blind' reportedly produces more natural and entertaining stories.
  • We have the same experience in BW, Josh, specifically stuff like Duel of Wits and such: If you put the mechanics first, it can lead to awkward play. Like, the natural thing for my guy to do next in an argument is to hang a threat over his enemy's head, but he sucks at intimidate so now I have to consider ways to get him to simply persuade the other side. This doesn't fit with either my vision of the conversation nor my internal model of what I feel my character is "supposed" to be good at, so there's a hiccup. But it's waaay better if you just talk it out, and an impartial mediator (the GM) tells you what to roll. The result? Just because I think my guy prefers to threaten and yell doesn't mean he's actually any good at it! Hilarity ensues.

    In some ways I like it when the mechanics shape play choices: I look at my character and see he's better at persuading than intimidating, so I play him as a smooth talker and not a tough-talker. But it seems inevitable that my personal vision of the character isn't mechanically well represented, so there's a gap between how I think things should go and how the mechanics support/deny that vision.

    p.
  • edited February 2009
    Wait wait wait...

    For the record, this exactly is The Fruitful Void.

    As Vincent writes, using Dogs in the Vineyard as an example, "The arrows are all procedural elements of the game, as you can see. What's inside the whirlwind? Inside the whirlwind is what really matters."

    I would say the procedures are there to provoke the real reward. What many people consider the "reward cycle" isn't the reward cycle or the reward. It's a process you go through to get to the thing that "really matters."

    To draw from Schwartz's example, the job of Janitor of a Hospital has many procedures, but the reward is the interaction with the people in the hospital. The janitorial procedures allows the Janitor interact with people and make decisions about how to interact. But interacting with people and how one chooses to interact with people, which isn't listed as a procedure, is the payoff.

    If you just jump from procedure to procedure - paying attention to nothing else - thinking you're going to get a great payoff, you'll be disappointed. I've noticed a bunch of posts lately about how rushing from conflict resolution to conflict resolution isn't really satisfying. Like that. That kind of play is the guy who thinks he's going to be satisfied as long as he's focused on his incentives at work and stops paying attention to how or why he's doing the work.


    I found the talk more relevant to the search for game designs that try to keep players from hurting each other with "social violence," "brutality" or "abuse" or whatever crazy buzzwords the kids are throwing down these days. Schwartz's point is, and I agree, you can't force "practical wisdom" through rules or rewards -- and trying to put up guard rails to prevent people from having to learn to be practically wise via (supposedly) protective rules only absolves folks from having to pay attention to how they're actually treating other people. If people at a table are treating each other badly, they should learn to pay attention and not do that.... not wait for the rules to clean up their behavior.

    But it's a different thread and I'll write something up later.
  • Christopher, that's a really interesting thought train there. If this were the Forge circa 2002, I would be like:

    The Kubasik Principle: You can't guide people through the Fruitful Void, and you can't teach them how to not be assholes.
  • As I recall it, the notion was always that the structure - the arrows in the Fruity diagram - is supposed to make a space for something to happen. It's not the important part. If people just follow the arrows round and round, and never actually put anything in the middle, yeah. Suck. I have played that game.

    Relatedly, the function of the good kind of mechanical reinforcement of social interaction is very similar. If you want to follow the pointers, they'll make things better. If you fail to follow them, the mechanics won't support and reinforce you, so the whole thing will fall apart fast.

    For a long time, the usual systematic response to social crap-giving was "here is how to use mechanics and GM force to deniably punish deviance". That's the suck. Having mechanics that positively leverage NON-ass behavior? Can be very cool.
  • Posted By: Christopher KubasikWait wait wait...

    For the record, this exactly isThe Fruitful Void.
    Uh, right. Just focused on the other bits.

    Hence the name.
  • Well then, yes.

    When the table jumps from conflict resolution to conflict resolution in Primetime Adventures without bothering to establish actual scenework before the cards are called into play.

    People jumping at Best Interests in In a Wicked Age, calling conflict after conflict between the PCs, with adding more and more details to the world, the characters, the scenes and only reaching conflict after the accretion of details reach a point where two characters must oppose each other.

    People playing Sorcerer without any care to what the definition of Humanity is, just grabbing a generic LIt Class 101 theme off the shelf instead of actually investing with actual interest and passion a concern or idea or question they really need to know an answer to.

    I've done playtests of games where people went to town to "break" games by playing purely the mechanics and never actually investing themselves into the details -- which I could only liken to having sex with a clipboard and pen in one hand, taking notes while doing the act.

    I've been in games where these things happened -- with further details where people pursued the structure hoping for the payoff not seeing the payoff is what they gathered around the structure on their own by investing the procedures with more than the procedures could provide. And yes, in each case it was a fruitless structure.
  • edited February 2009
    Posted By: Paul BRelated note: intermittent rewards are psychologically more powerful than guaranteed, systematic rewards. That's what makes Las Vegas work. Also in dog training: You don't give the treateverytime, otherwise they will not behave correctly in the absence of the treat.

    p.
    A variable schedule is best for maintaining a behavior that's already been shaped (i.e., after they know which behavior produces which consequence). However, rewarding every time is the best way to start shaping a behavior from the ground up. Hence why less ethical gambling establishments will fix the game so that the person wins at first. You probably understand that better than I do; but I wanted to mention it, since it implies the need for a slightly different reward cycle for first-time players than for experienced players.

    Also, I remember hearing or reading that praise is supposed to be a good way to maximize the reward compared to the risk of overjustification. I like that idea because it's positive and easy. If there is a currency, maybe it should flow to the people who give praise rather than receive it.
  • It's interesting that the reverse of this is also true if I recall my years-ago psych classes correctly: that people tend to value higher what they pay more to get.

    Turning some rewards into costs is an interesting thought experiment:

    Like, Exalted's stunts give you bonus dice for describing your actions in cool and dramatic ways. What if, instead, there was a game where you could spend some Arbitrary Unit of Resource to describe any stunt you could imagine (that accomplishes the same result as your base action)?

    Or take TSoY. Instead of getting XP for a scene with a loved one with the Key of Unrequited Love, you could spend an token and say "Okay, time for a scene with my beloved!" (Actually, a lot of the keys totally rock out if you flip them around into selective dramatic editing powers.)
  • Posted By: BenhimselfIt's interesting that the reverse of this is also true if I recall my years-ago psych classes correctly: that people tend to value higher what they pay more to get.
    The fruitful trick to that may be making sure the cost is always closely tied to the void. Suppose you do pay a token to see your beloved. What was the opportunity cost of the token? Maybe you miss a chance to confront your enemy on your own terms. If that's the case, then think how much more momentous the trade would seem if you actually phrased it that way instead of paying a token.
  • edited February 2009
    Posted By: Paul BRelated note: intermittent rewards are psychologically more powerful than guaranteed, systematic rewards.
    The is the psychological root of why we play games in the first place.
    Posted By: BurrA variable schedule is best for maintaining a behavior that's already been shaped (i.e., after they know which behavior produces which consequence). However, rewarding every time is the best way to start shaping a behavior from the ground up.
    Yes. You need to set up expectations before you can meet them.
  • Posted By: anon.adderlanThe is the psychological root of why we play games in the first place.
    I think that's certainly true of games with an element of chance. There's also the game form where the psychological pleasure (probably) arises from pattern recognition and pattern completion -- Chess, Go, etc.

    On that same note, I think combining intermittent rewards with pattern completion is where you get mega-addictive games like Tetris, Bejeweled, etc. I'm not sure RPGs have tapped into that yet. If such a game existed, could that support the fiction-making at the core of RPGs or would it be a distraction?

    p.
  • edited February 2009
    Posted By: Levi-Who-Babbles.When you reward a behaviour, or create a mechanism, people will often become blind to the actual virtue being rewarded or the thing the mechanism supports - they just see the reward and the mechanism, and act accordingly based on those things.

    [...]

    Does that resonate with you? How so, or not so?
    Very much so.

    The idea that mechanical incentives may make you loose sight of the real deal makes a lot of sense to me. That's what I call carrot mechanics.

    Whether it's about extra dice or extra points or penalties of some sort, a lot of roleplaying games include mechanics aimed at making you play in a certain way because you want a reward. Most prominent are rewards for acting in accordance with certain preset characteristics (if your character is greedy, you get a reward for acting greedy), but there are many others variations.

    Some mechanics may work that way even though they're not really meant to be carroty. For example, in order to make characters evolve naturally based on their experiences you may want to let them improve skills based on how often they use those skills during the game - but then, in Oblivion, you get people jumping everywhere they go to get a better jump skill. In pen and paper games people won't usually act that silly, but the skill improvement systems in Pendragon or Call of Cthulu or Mouse Guard may still influence players to lust for tests even in situations where a test doesn't really make the game more fun.

    Now, I do believe that carrot mechanics may teach players how to make games more fun. Reading about stunts in Exalted made me realize that action scenes often become more exciting if you involve the scenery. I hadn't thought about that before. But now I've learned this, so if I want to describe a cool action scene I'll keep the scenery in mind, regardless of what bonuses I get from doing so. It's like training wheels on a bike. (And I would hate it if in the middle of an action scene I were to realize that right now all these chairs and rugs and chandeliers I'm introducing are contributing only extra dice, not any extra action.)

    The problem arises when the system pushes you in a direction that you don't really feel will make the game more exciting, but that will get you a carrot. Or even when the system doesn't push you in an irritating direction, but the carrot distracts you a little from all of the cool roleplaying that is going on. That's why I don't like mechanical rewards that encourage certain player behaviours: I want the only player motivation, the only reward anyone is concerned with, to be FUN.
  • I'm with Magnus. Short-term reward systems are good for putting the focus on (or teaching) specific behavior or skills. Then, after the behavior has been internalized, the reward systems should be removed so the players are free to use the new skills/behavior when they like. Long-term intrinsic rewards (like the feeling of having finished a good campaign) or social rewards (like your friends talking about how cool your character is) take over. One might say that at that point we stop being lab rats and turn into social and artistic beings.
  • So Magnus and Matthijs, do you advocate not having reward systems at all in games (presuming we've all learnt the neccessary skills), or just removing the ones pointing toward what ought to be fuitful void?
  • Hmph. Rewards are only as powerful as we let them be. In a game with mechanical rewards, acting without regard to the reward mechanic is a statement of character. Reward systems can be leveraged to provide fictional positioning. They're useful for a lot more than just "training wheel" effects, and it seems to me that one skill of play is to know when to ignore them. Compulsive pursuit of mechanical reward, even when fictional integrity or expression indicates otherwise, isn't a rules problem. It's a people problem.
  • (Levi, please let us know if we're straying too far from the thread topic...)
    Posted By: Simon_PetterssonSo Magnus and Matthijs, do you advocate not having reward systems at all in games (presuming we've all learnt the neccessary skills), or just removing the ones pointing toward what ought to be fuitful void?
    It depends what the game's about, and who it's for. I like having (point-based/short-term) reward systems in competitive games, or games that are all about powering up your character; Zombie Porn and D&D4 both have fun reward systems. I don't think they're needed in long, slow campaigns, or impro-like play, or role-playing poems, or Nordic larps...

    Archipelago doesn't have an explicit reward system (although for instance having your destiny point suggestions accepted is a reward in itself).
    Posted By: Mark WReward systems can be leveraged to provide fictional positioning.
    What does that mean?
  • Most reward systems operate by giving the player currency that can be converted into in-game effectiveness - either for the character, or narrative power to alter the fiction beyond the actions of the character.

    You can use this power for lots of things. Trivially, you can use it for power-up-type effectiveness. More interestingly, you can use it to set up new content, alter situations, and generally influence the direction and content of play.

    XP systems are nice for this - I can pursue extra XP rewards not so I can get bigger sword-swinging bonuses, but so that I can invest in a new suite of abilities, a new "set", or emphasize something that had previously been unimportant to the character. Fate-point type systems are potentially even better, since I can use declarations to change the whole direction of play - not necessarily to my character advantage, but in whatever direction I choose.

    Positioning: the set of things you have available to you to "use" in the fiction.

    Mechanical rewards don't have to be mindlessly used to "win" in the continued pursuit of additional rewards. You can invest your rewards.
  • Posted By: MatthijsI'm with Magnus. Short-term reward systems are good for putting the focus on (or teaching) specific behavior or skills. Then, after the behavior has been internalized, the reward systems should be removed so the players are free to use the new skills/behavior when they like. Long-term intrinsic rewards (like the feeling of having finished a good campaign) or social rewards (like your friends talking about how cool your character is) take over. One might say that at that point we stop being lab rats and turn into social and artistic beings.
    Hmm!

    In L5R, you get more honor for certain things at lower ranks, and get less of it at higher ranks as that sort of behavior becomes "expected" rather than rewarded. You could design a game's reward system more like this, perhaps.

    For example, some faux D&D substitute, at low levels you get XP for gaining loot and killing monsters, at higher levels you get it for attracting cohorts and henchmen, and even higher levels you get it for gaining property and territory, at even higher levels yet for gaining worshipers, etc...
  • Mark, OK, I understand what you mean.
  • edited February 2009
    Posted By: Simon_PetterssonSo Magnus and Matthijs, do you advocate not having reward systems at all in games (presuming we've all learnt the neccessary skills), or just removing the ones pointing toward what ought to be fuitful void?
    For me it's about reward systems that try to nudge you. I've got no beef with experience points, only with experience points you get for playing the right way.

    Also, flags are great. It's very useful to put "greedy" (or even "greedy: 3") on a character sheet to remind me and the other players that this is a trait we want to emphasize. But then I want us to be able to use my greediness as we see fit, without being nudged around by the system.
    Posted By: Mark WIn a game with mechanical rewards, acting without regard to the reward mechanic is a statement of character.
    Sure, but I think think statements of character within the shared imaginary space ("I bought a donkey even though a donkey killed my father") are more interesting than those that hinge on metaelements ("I bought a donkey even though it cost me 5 points").
    Posted By: Mark WThey're useful for a lot more than just "training wheel" effects, and it seems to me that one skill of play is to know when to ignore them.
    Its' probably a matter of taste, but I can't think of any other uses that I find interesting. There is of course the feeling of acomplishment when you get rewarded, but I prefer to get that from character/plot/theme development and social feedback.
    Posted By: Mark WCompulsive pursuit of mechanical reward, even when fictional integrity or expression indicates otherwise, isn't a rules problem. It's a people problem.
    I agree, but I'm not talking about compulsive pursuit. I'm talking about the system pushing you in small ways when the pushing is at best a distraction.

    If you're saying that reward systems don't shape the way we play, wouldn't that make them failures?
    Posted By: Mark WYou can use this power for lots of things. Trivially, you can use it for power-up-type effectiveness. More interestingly, you can use it to set up new content, alter situations, and generally influence the direction and content of play.
    I love to set up new content, alter situations and influence the direction and content of play. But why should I loose the opportunity to do this if I haven't been playing like the system wants me to?
  • Posted By: Mark WHmph. Rewards are only as powerful as we let them be. In a game with mechanical rewards, acting without regard to the reward mechanic is a statement of character. Reward systems can be leveraged to provide fictional positioning. They're useful for a lot more than just "training wheel" effects, and it seems to me that one skill of play is to know when to ignore them. Compulsive pursuit of mechanical reward, even when fictional integrity or expression indicates otherwise, isn't a rules problem. It's a people problem.
    I think there's another angle to this that often goes undiscussed: Not every incentive works for every player. If the player doesn't care about killing the other guy faster, he won't be incentivized by the prospect of earning kill-the-other-guy points. If he doesn't care about taking the narrative reins of a scene, all the bribery in the world won't pull him toward actions that provide that opportunity. Then you start running into folks reinventing the games they're playing to fit the incentive scheme they need, and then you're into JD's "nobody plays by the rules anyway" territory.

    Honestly I think incentive disconnects are a leading cause of "I don't get it" moments in RPGs. I don't even think that this is just redescribing CA disagreements.

    p.
  • Hey, aren't mechanical rewards there to teach the group when to give social rewards ("hey good job" or "that was awesome") to build a play culture that works for this particular game?
  • Jonathan: Interesting thesis. It rings untrue to me (or rather, it sounds like a very specific approach and not a universal truth) but I probably don't get what you're getting at. Can you expand on it a little?

    p.
  • A well-designed reward system is pointing you at doing the stuff the game is about. If you choose to do stuff that's not in line with that, that choice should matter. It shouldn't be punished, but it also shouldn't be reward-neutral.

    Note that in my opinion, meaningful mechanical rewards should really only be used if the game is about something - in other words, if there is a "fruitful void" whose presence will be identified and perpetuated by the mechanical reward system. If the game is not about anything in particular, or is about many different things (at once or in succession), mechanical reward systems have less utility - possibly even becoming destructive.

    I sense that some of the hostility toward mechanical rewards may come from a desire to customize "aboutness" to individual taste or not to have a central organizing principle for play.

    A reward mechanic can help you reliably hit the target. If you don't know what the target is, can't agree on what it should be, or would prefer not to have one, drop the mechanical rewards.
  • Posted By: Mark WI sense that some of the hostility toward mechanical rewards may come from a desire to customize "aboutness" to individual taste or not to have a central organizing principle for play.
    Not in my case - focused games are fine by me.

    But I think that a lot of the time it would work better to just explain how to make the game fun: "This is a game about fighting your own vices. Pick one main problem and put it on your character sheet. Everyone should note the vices of all the characters, and during play you should look for opportunities to engage them." If that is what we need to do make the game fun, wouldn't we do it even if we didn't get 5 points?
  • I guess that's a different strokes thing, then. I find it much less intrusive to have the structure of play pointing me in the right direction - so that of I just play my character with conviction, and follow the rules, I'll get where I want to be - than I do being always in the director's chair, playing up at that meta level. And I say this as someone who is in no way an "immersive" player, and is comfortable with director stance. But I like it at a more moment-to-moment, shot-to-shot pace than at a narrative-structure level. Letting the structure keep me on target so I can concentrate on portrayal is a plus for me, and makes the moments I consciously choose to defy the structure more significant.

    But I can see that others might have different tastes in the matter. I do kind of wonder about one thing, though. You keep talking about rewards in terms of "scoring points." Do you see them as fundamentally competitive and quantitative? I tend to think of them as fuel.
  • Posted By: Paul BCan you expand on it a little?
    Sure, Paul. I think I'm somewhere near Magnus on this. Mechanical rewards (including XP) are there to encourage players to do stuff that you want them too; therefore, if they're already doing what you want them too, there's no need for a mechanical incentive. Consequently, in line with this thread, I see mechanical incentives as teaching tools that are only necessary until the players have figured out what they're supposed to do and remember to do it consistently.

    Additionally, in many games, mechanical incentives could be successfully replaced with social incentives. Like, if you want players to... uh, always describe the crazy hairstyles that characters have, you could have a rule where, anytime someone describes their characters' hairstyle, the other players' characters have to give that character complements. Assuming that players enjoy having their character received compliments, boom, you now have a social incentive as powerful as any mechanical incentive.

    However, like mechanical incentives, you might want mandatory social incentives like that to fade away as the group becomes more accustomed to doing things instinctively. After all, it might not always be appropriate for hair-compliments to be injected directly into a scene, so once players learn to describe and compliment each others' hair, you probably want to allow them more leeway to determine when it's appropriate to do so. However, mechanical incentives can be harder to fade out than social incentives. Take Primetime Adventures for example. Fanmail in PTA is built into the way the token economy is calculated. If players forget to give out fanmail, even if they are still throwing "awesome!" social rewards to the other players in the group, the game gets kinda funky, because the players might end up not having enough fanmail to spend on extra cards.

    In other cases, if a mechanical incentive is rendered unnecessary by the play culture of the group, it can throw the play culture of the group off. For example, if you watch a bunch of experienced indie gamers sit down and play Wushu, for example, it can be really weird. Wushu gives you a mechanical incentive for describing additional details of your characters actions, but most indie roleplayers I know have no problems with descriptions, so they describe the maximum number of details every time, which sometimes makes things strangely overblown and leads to non-essential details being described. The social culture of a lot of indie roleplaying games already awards people for describing things in a cool or shocking way, so it doesn't really connect well with a significant portion of Wushu's mechanics.

    Does that help?
  • Jonathan,

    It does, thanks!

    I do see that phenomenon in my play groups, so that helps. It also reinforces, for me, that the phenomenon you're talking about is culture-specific and not universal. I've also played in groups where the point of play was to chase mechanical incentives because earning them was

    a) a form of score-keeping (which I suppose is a way to earn social validation, although by no means does one lead to the other)

    and/or

    b) a way to bank (hopefully) insurmountable advantages for future tactical conflicts.

    I would hesitate to call those groups "bad" or "dysfunctional" or whatever, but their motives for play -- the stuff that incentivizes them -- is perpendicular to the motives of the play culture I think we're talking about here.

    p.
  • Yeah, Paul, I was just chatting with Eric and said: "This also assumes a non-competitive play environment, where gaining mechanical incentives more often or before your opponents isn't the name of the game. Because, in those cases, yeah, you might give people social rewards for being stupid so they'll keep doing it." You see this in poker tournaments and the like, right? I mean, in friendly competition, it might not be that cutthroat. I've seen GMs warn their players before they make a poor tactical decision, because the GM ultimately wants the players to win the fight, making the competition more an illusion than real. But, yes, there's definitely play cultures in which seeking mechanical incentives is the entire intent of play.

    I still wonder whether you could simplify these games by removing most of the mechanical incentives and replacing them with Magnus-style declarations about "what play is about" and having very specific options about what the characters do (4E does this, as does Mouse Guard). Like, you don't need an incentive for players to seek out the next encounter in D&D, right? It happens eventually whether they seek it or not because that's how you play.
  • Funnily enough, Jonathan, apparently you do need such an incentive in D&D. The "milestone" concept in 4E is there to provide incentives to continue to the next encounter rather than simply stop, recharge all your resources, and go on - the "15-minute adventuring day" that was a bane of many 3E tables.

    And I still think I'm seeing an unjustified polarization in how this thread is talking about rewards. The alternatives are not binary "chase rewards for competitive advantage" vs "we all know how to play, stop harshing our mellow." There's a place for rewards as "cruise control" - abstracting pacing and focus management out to the mechanical layer and away from conscious player effort.
  • "Cruise control" seems like a good way of referring to the way I often end up using rewards, both as GM and player. Not determinative, and easy to override, but there chugging along so that I don't necessarily have to think about it all the time. I'm in the midst of a somewhat Getting Things Done-style overhaul of my routine, and so thinking positively of systems that are easy to set up and check without requiring constant maintenance thought or emotion. Sometimes I'm inclined to think of applying a comfortable, satisfying reward system much as I do eating meals and taking my medications regularly: in good stretches I could skip some without any harm to speak of, but I keep to the routine so that bad stretches are less likely to come along.

    In this regard, lots of game mechanics are, for me, less about creating good stuff than about deterring the emergence of bad stuff, where "bad" means "not what we want by playing this game this way at this point".
  • Or competitive-versus-the-GM.

    I mean, consider a player who says "I have no incentive for giving anyone fan mail." I mean, my mind boggles at that. In fact my gut reaction is to peg that guy as an asshole. But he truly may have absolutely no incentive to hand strokes out to other players. He gains no mechanical tactical advantage, he himself is not earning social validation (or at least can't perceive that he will, because people will think he's cool because of his generosity), etc.

    Mostly I'm playing the Devil's Advocate here, because I'm very much in the storygaming-style culture. But I've got good friends who have derived literally decades of fun out of competitive-style RPG play, and for them the stuff we're talking about is alien, pointless, or both.

    Mark: I do think there's room for rewards as a pacing mechanism, but even then that assumes that pacing is important to the players. It might be important to the designer, but the folks playing may not agree. They may in fact find such a scheme directly interferes with their fun! I've got a very good friend who pegged many of these sorts of mechanisms in Burning Empires as, and I quote, "The death of fun."

    p.
  • Paul B: I find my life much happier since I started giving up more. :) But seriously, I have friends who really, really thrive on highly competitive roleplaying who have an insane sort of fun that's glorious to watch. They don't spare one inch of mercy for themselves any more than they do for each other when they play, and it's fascinating to see. But it's also true that I have somewhere close to precisely zero to say to them as an author or player, and that they have very little to offer me apart from the fun of any art practiced well. And we're all fine with that. We talk about other things.
  • Unlike rules designed for the purpose of modifying social behavior, game rules are designed to be followed because people enjoy doing so. Following the rules should itself be rewarding in a game.
    Posted By: Paul BI think that's certainly true of games with an element of chance. There's also the game form where the psychological pleasure (probably) arises from pattern recognition and pattern completion -- Chess, Go, etc.
    Alright then, this is the other psychological root of why we play games in the first place :P
    Posted By: Paul BOn that same note, I think combining intermittent rewards with pattern completion is where you get mega-addictive games like Tetris, Bejeweled, etc.
    For me, pattern completion is the reason I enjoy those games in the first place.

    Hmm..

    Perhaps there's some grand illusion going on here, where play is the actual reward, but we need to be tricked into it with a Scooby Snack.
    Posted By: Paul BI'm not sure RPGs have tapped into that yet. If such a game existed, could that support the fiction-making at the core of RPGs or would it be a distraction?
    D&D already taps straight into this kind of play, and ends up being a distraction IMHO. However, that has more to do with the kinds of patterns being completed than the completion itself.
    Posted By: MagnusIt's like training wheels on a bike.
    I JUST used exactly the same analogy to describe FATE points in FATE recently.
    Posted By: Jonathan WaltonMechanical rewards (including XP) are there to encourage players to do stuff that you want them too; therefore, if they're already doing what you want them too, there's no need for a mechanical incentive.
    Indeed. The only thing left is the play itself, which is what I'm there for.
    Posted By: Jonathan WaltonConsequently, in line with this thread, I see mechanical incentives as teaching tools that are only necessary until the players have figured out what they're supposed to do and remember to do it consistently.
    Unless of course the incentives become the reason for play, and reduce actual play into a soulless repetitive exercise.

    Slot Jockeys don't enjoy continually pulling the lever. In fact, they often turn off emotionally and work like robots. That's the last thing we want in an RPG though. Ironically, they are also usually more driven in play than someone who enjoys pulling the lever for its own sake, committing that action more often and vigorously. But that enthusiasm for play is an illusion, and the opposite of what a good RPG should be encouraging.
    Posted By: Jonathan WaltonAdditionally, in many games, mechanical incentives could be successfully replaced with social incentives.
    Well, as long as all the players involved are skilled at engaging with others socially, as opposed to engaging with the rules mechanically.
    Posted By: Jonathan WaltonHowever, like mechanical incentives, you might want mandatory social incentives like that to fade away as the group becomes more accustomed to doing things instinctively.
    This is what I meant when I said a good session should work like a Ouija board.
    Posted By: Jonathan WaltonIn other cases, if a mechanical incentive is rendered unnecessary by the play culture of the group, it can throw the play culture of the group off. For example, if you watch a bunch of experienced indie gamers sit down and play Wushu, for example, it can be really weird.
    In fact, this kind of thing can render what was meant to be a game, not a game. The players have just become too good at it for the rewards to be rewarding. You could even say that these indie gamers you mention have outgrown Wushu.
  • Posted By: Levi-Who-Babbles.
    Does that resonate with you? How so, or not so?
    Die rewards, die!
  • Posted By: Matthijs(Levi, please let us know if we're straying too far from the thread topic...)
    I refuse to tell you any such thing! You're saying interesting and useful stuff - who cares what I was thinking originally?
  • Die rewards, die!
    *Snort*

    Not at all. Just, which rewards?

    Is it better to explain to players that they get a magic happy token of fiddly thingummyness when they do great stuff? Or to point at the great things and go "THAT WAS GREAT. MORE PLEASE!"

    Does thinking about how many tokens of thingummyness to give them distract you from applauding? Does it cheapen the applause? Does it improve and amplify the applause? Does it vary from system to system and situation to situation?

    When? Why?
  • You know why I haven't played The Shadow of Yesterday yet?

    Because Keys give you XP.
    What the hell is the XP for? I can use it to increase my stats, but why? What do I gain from that? My character gets stronger and better able to do stuff, sure, but what's the point of that? What does that profit me?
  • XP gets you closer to triggering transcendance.
  • Xp change your character. He/she learn new things (secrets), gets better at doing things (traits and pools) and change his/her outlook and personality (buy new keys). Without XPs your character would be static.
  • I don't see why XP is needed for the character dynamism of new Keys; as for gaining new Secrets or enhancing traits and pools, I don't care. The whole transcendence thing doesn't interest me either.

    Actually, I have the same qualms with Artha in the Burning Wheel.

    The whole paradigm of "inform your roleplaying with these Keys/Beliefs/whatever, and enhance stuff/get new stuff/nudge dice rolls/have Epiphanies/whatever" just doesn't appeal to me. I'd rather play a vibrant, dynamic character with beliefs and a personal fabric because it's fun. I don't want to juggle effectiveness improvement (whether permanent or momentary) with it.
  • Gee, Marshall, what if you could have both at once?
  • But why would I want both at once? What can I do with that? I don't get it.
  • XP makes your character more powerful, so you then as a player will have more control over the story and get more of what you want.

    Artha works to encourage roleplaying, it's a mechanical way to hopefully incentivize playing a vibrant dynamic character because playing such a character is not often the way to powergame the situation. You get more of what you want by not doing that. With something like artha you change it so it becomes mechanically 'worth it' to do awesome but sub-optimal actions. If you're doing the awesome anyway, it simply makes your character better for it.
  • Posted By: Marshall BurnsBut why would Iwantboth at once? What can I do with that? I don'tgetit.
    You can exert more authority over the fiction.

    p.
  • I have to say I'm with Marshall here. Keys work thusly:

    Using a Key well:
    Reward: XP
    Reward: Cool stories

    Using a Key badly:
    Reward: XP
    Punishment: Bad stories

    How is this not improved by removing the XP reward (presupposing it actually is a reward)? I can get the "trainig wheel" effect spoken of here, but once you're a competent story gamer, get rid of the XP reward!

    Also, I haven't played the game, though I've played a game using Keys, but XP getting you "more control over the fiction"? Doesn't it simply make you succeed more often? Granted, that lets you exert more control, but it has the side effect of ... making you succeed more often. Or am I missing something?
  • Can I just ask Marshall and Simon if they have ever played Shadow of Yesterday? I'm sensing a lot of hostility toward a perceived design technique, but not understanding where it's coming from. In my experience, playing a game tells me a lot more and often dispells misaprehensions I had. So, have you guys played the game? The fastest answer to your questions would be to do so.
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