"I Will Not Abandon You" - How do you do it?

edited June 2011 in Story Games
So, Jenskot started the thread "I Will Not Abandon You" - What is it? in which many people answered him. IWNAY is a term coined by Meg Bakerer in 2006.

Meg wrote that IWNAY is a social agreement that:
I as a player expect to get my buttons pushed, and I will not abandon you, my fellow players, when that happens. I will remain present and engaged and play through the issue.
I as a player expect to push buttons, and I will not abandon you, my fellow players, when you react. I will remain present and engaged as you play through the issue.
This is in contrast with "Nobody Gets Hurt" where the social agreement is:
we know where each other's lines are, and we agree not to cross them.
In the thread, some people said things, including:
Posted By: JesseOne of the great misunderstanding of Ron's discussion of Lines and Veils in Sex & Sorcery was that these were things that you should hammer out in advance with your play group like some kind of contract written in blood. I think that's socially problematic because it creates fictional trenches in the name of social safety rather than actual understanding of each other's lines. What Ron was getting at was that these things *exist*. People have lines. Some creative material gets veiled.

When you go into a social situation knowing these things exist then you can *discover* them rather organically. Someone introduces some fictional content and someone else gets a little squicky about it. You know you're walking near a line for that person. The question is when that happens what do you do?

For No One Gets Hurt, you back away. You revise your content. You throw a veil over something and quickly move on. You introduce new content that quickly moves play away from the line.

For I Will Not Abandon You, you keep going. You acknowledge that you're crossing a line but you also trust the other player to handle it. The other player plays through the uncomfortable content with you.

These are reciprocal relationships. If they don't check out for your material, you don't check out for theirs. These also apply to oneself. You might find yourself cornered by the fiction and you realize you're about to do something that makes *yourself* uncomfortable. For No One Gets Hurt, you rationalize a way out of doing that. In I Will Not Abandon You, you go there and trust the group to play through it with you.

For whatever reason whenever I talk about this stuff people liken it to therapy. That's not what it is. It's about emotional and creative integrity to the demands of the fiction and about appreciating the social honesty of that fiction.
Posted By: lumpleyI will not abandon you and nobody gets hurt are, kind of as usual, emotionally provocative names for what's really a simple technical difference between rules.

When I say a thing you don't like, can you veto me by the rules, or would you have to step outside of the rules to veto me?

You can see the implications for our social interactions as we play. If the former, our precious consensus comes first, even when I have something challenging and provocative I want to say. If the latter, my precious idea comes first, even when I'm being a total wad.

Then, as VERY usual, they became rallying cries for people including me who prefer one to the other. I hope that's over. Because of course the real value of them is not as rallying cries, but as insights into rule design, so that you can look carefully at both and create more sophisticated games.Whendoes our consensus really need to trump one person's vision?Whichchallenging ideas are really more valuable than our feelings?
So, before we go on, I want to make one thing clear: this thread is not about definitions. I don't wanna ban discussions of "what does that mean?" entirely, but let's keep all definitional talk squarely in the realm of "how do we continue to play into places past people's comfort zones in a way that is healthy and affirming for everyone involved?" If you wanna debate definition (and honestly, I might, myself) let's keep that in the parent thread.


  • edited June 2011
    Some people's comments in the parent thread point to some best practices for "I Will Not Abandon You" play:
    Posted By: JesseOne of the most important things is that the players need to be able to address the material and not simply be subjected to it. I remember reading this horrible story on RPG.net about how a guy ran a Firefly game that involved the crew transporting a guy who turned out to be a dealer in forced child prostitution. Any time the players tried to do anything about it the GM reminded them that if this guy failed to arrive at his destination an inter-galactic war would break out or something like that. Basically, he just subjected to them to moral helplessness for four hours.

    That isn't edgy, that's abuse.

    The premise is fine but if the players want to kill the guy and deal with the inter-galactic war then that's what they should be allowed to do.
    Posted By: Emily CareThe choice of material, the approach to the game, the assumptions brought to the game (explicit and implicit) also create an atmosphere that can be conducive to one or the other path. The worst problems occur when either the environmental factors (setting, tone discussion, culture of play) gives people enough awareness to know that they may be heading into murky waters, or when the mechanics/system heads you down that path, but doesn't address the social implications.

    Though any game can go into deep waters. It's hardest when some people want to swim there, and others don't.
    Posted By: JoelPosted By: Simon CI Will Not Abandon You is, in my experience, about how you deal with triggering or squicky or painful stuffif it comes up, but there's an assumption that no one istryingto make you feel squicky or triggered or in pain. We play the game, we know the game might go there, and we're prepared for it if it does.
    Well, Simon, actually, I see pushing toward uncomfortable material as a core component of IWNAY play and design. There's a spectrum, surely--Bacchanal's injunction to always narrate something that's uncomfortable to share resides at one end, where I'm sure plenty of games happily occupy the "don't push for it but it might go there" category. To really be IWNAY, though, I think there needs to be SOME degree of push toward the uncomfortable. Making it too easy to avoid pain might be IWNAY in name but functionally will really be NGW 99% of the time. Many games that facilitate IWNAY (mine included) take an approach of pushing hard, to varying degrees (Bliss Stage pushes harder than Crucible, for instance) toward uncomfortable material coming up, without actually requiring it.

    That said, going in with an explicit agreement to bravely face painful moments togetherdoesincrease the chances of play going there, I think. And you don't have to FORCE play into the triggering places, surely. Generally, being true to the integrity of your fiction is quite sufficient.

    And a couple of folks linked to Actual Play accounts I've written recently about IWNAY play:

    A Piece of Myself
    Trauma and Celebration

    So all that is background for this discussion.
  • edited June 2011
    Now, the main event:

    Drew (greypawn) asked:
    Posted By: graypawnI've been in some games where the pitch felt very alluring to take the "I Will Not Abandon You" approach. I didn't like it. And yet i feel like i should, or that there could be a way for me to enjoy it. Or maybe what i was doing was something else, or maybe just IWNAY in an...incorrect way? Is there no advice one can share on how to ...i don't know, 'do it right' i guess?
    That's the central question of this thread. how do you do IWNAY "right"? What ways can you do it "wrong"? Which really means, deep down, what practices are likely to make IWNAY a healthy and positive experience for the player? And what practices are likely to make it a damaging, hurtful one?

    Drew elaborated on his misgivings by sharing some powerful personal experience:
    Posted By: graypawnIt seems so simple, when i think of it now, because the turn of phrase should be the answer. But in retrospect i'm still a bit stunned to admit that a lot of the negative emotions i've got toward the IWNAY games i've played were not due to the material covered, but the estrangement that followed. There was closeness through the topics, but afterwards friendships became hard. Friendships complicated by revelations directly created in a role-playing game. About faiths, desires, and the impressions we had of each other.

    And so i've sorta twisted "I Will Not Abandon You," to a point, when i hear it now, it almost sounds like "This Is Why I'll Abandon You." It's become a sort of 'play with fire...' kind of mentality. I guess i'm just not sure why it's viable, or desirable anymore.
    Posted By: graypawnmy friend and i had both never heard of IWNAY or NGH. We were just young, passionate gamers, and we wanted to play through a tale that really gripped our hearts. With a great deal of ignorance i hedged a lot of the relationships of our 'characters' to mimic our own interconnectedness as friends. It worked very well, people began to play their characters among each other the way we hung out in real life. Our characters became more like avatars, and their relationships eased into an intimacy that was cinematic, and in that hollywood way sort of promised happy endings. Promises that were never spoken, but i think were assumed between each other in real life, as well.

    Then i drew a line in the sand, pretending like it was an 'in game choice,' nothing more than a divider in the path of a simple story. It resulted in a character scene that became a real live shouting match in my friends dorm room. It ended, to me, when my friend came to my house the night i was putting all my stuff into my car, the night before i drove away forever. He tried to make amends, i tried to make amends, i believe we really did. But we failed. He hugged me, soaked my shoulder in tears, and left. I did the same, feeling like my heart was a stone. The next morning i got in my car, and very thoroughlyabandonedmy friends in that city. I think Everybody Got Hurt.
    That's an absolutely chilling account. I'm going to kick off this thread, not by providing answers, but by sharing my own experience that's similar to yours, Drew. I joined a group in college that played together for 9 years--an assortment of campaigns with a variety of GMs, using mostly D20 and BESM. We had pretty tight relationship ties, including my brother, his wife, and severy close friendship bonds in various directions. On the whole, though, those bonds didn't spread evenly throughout the group--for instance I was close to my brother and my sister-in-law, but not to her close friend. And HIS best friend was, like, her passive-aggressive mortal enemy. So we didn't really have a strong supportive environment for exploring personal material--at most a third of the group might support it, while another third would ignore it, and another third just might exploit your vulnerability. And we didn't even get into super-sensitive areas of personal lines, generally speaking. Just trying to explore something I found emotionally engaging at all would meet with that treatment.

    My involvement with the group ended dramatically when I had a falling out, ironically with the two people I was closest to and with whom I had the greatest mutual support. As I described in the blog post, I was desperately longing for a more fulfilling game experience, and the strain took its toll:
    I’d play week after week, passive-aggressively trying to push new techniques or mindsets, my discontentment growing. I took to carrying Indie games in my bag, like Sorcerer or The Shadow of Yesterday, as if the games could rub off on my friends by osmosis—all the while wishing to God we were using those rules, good rules, in our current game.

    When this untenable situation finally exploded, it wasn’t pretty. Close, intimate loved ones didn’t speak to me for a year.
    I think this dispute arose was those closest to me precisely because our intimacy made the experience of play more excruciating--their goals of play seemed so close to my own, and I wanted to play with them, specifically, so badly, that our disconnect at the table was nightmarish. When I felt that disconnect with other players, it was easy to simply think, "well, if I had my way I'd just not play with him!" But with these two, it was an impossible situation, where I wanted to play with them, but began to hate to play with them.

    Now, the part of my story that's similar to Drew's is: as these tensions grew, I started acting my frustrations out in character. Most of my characters across the various campaigns had enough of my personality and outlook in them that it was easy to justify any opinion I had about how the game was going as an in-character belief or feeling. If for instance, I felt railroaded by an NPC authority figure, my character in that game would start angrily defying and confronting the figure at every turn. Others would tell me, (seeming to think that it was just 'good roleplaying' on my part), "man, your character is being a real asshole." And I would think (and sometimes say aloud), "I agree with every single thing he's saying and doing." And I did. I also believed (and still do) that I was being true to the character's integrity in each case. But it certainly wasn't healthy or fun. And as the primary GM of the group, my sister-in-law was my chief opponent in these clashes.

    The incident that sparked our game breakup wasn't an "in-character" feud. But by then tensions were so high that when I tried to express, up-front and outside of play, the reasons for my ongoing frustration and discontent, my sister-in-law took it very hard and very personally and along with her husband, my brother, was so offended that as I said, they didn't speak to me for a year. She still won't talk to me except for reserved small talk at family gatherings.

    So, that was a form of seeming IWNAY, in the sense that we were upset and uncomfortable and "playing through" the situation rather than pulling back or discussing it. But I daresay it's missing several key factors of the functional IWNAY play I've enjoyed. The first one I can think of is transparency. Nobody went into the game with a clear agreement as to where play can go and how to deal with it once it gets there. I didn't say, for instance, "Hey, guys, sometimes I'm going to play out my honest dissatisfaction with the game through my character." I just played along and used the pose of my character to express discontent without having to admit to it. If I'd been up-front about a practice like this, then at least the rest of the group would have a chance to evaluate and opt out of it, as I expect most sane people would!

    Any other practices folks can think of that this play was missing? Shout them out!

  • This is more than one question, it's huge.

    Areas i'd love to ponder, openly and with no agenda, part one:

    Where do we draw the line between "Passionate Play means Edgy" and "Passionate Play means Vulnerable Engagement"
    People can explore topics of intense emotion or moral obscurity all they want. That could be called IWNAY. People could pick personal pains and share them, or bring them up without another players consent. That could also be IWNAY. They're both games where the people involved are trying to 'play through it.' But Adult Content is one thing, emotional trauma is another. I can watch a movie that forces me to explore topics that i find horrible, and this can happen from different angles, too [personal opinion] Saving Private Ryan is hard for me to watch, but i tell people to watch it, The Hills Have Eyes is near impossible for me to watch, and i wish i could incinerate every copy that exists.[/personal opinion]

    I love Ogre. I also found it surprising how much i really love his game Combat Diaries (yet to be written/release). I played it the first time i ever went to GoPlayNW, it's one of the hardest and most edgy and most wonderful memories i have of gaming. But two months ago a friend of mine from childhood completed his training with special forces and was deployed to Afghanistan. I'm not sure i'll be able to play Combat Diaries this year. I have a co-worker telling me i should watch Rest/Repo, and i want to. But i'm not sure it would be good right now. Is it fair to say that i owe my friend, that i should honor him by watching this movie to know what he's going through right now? Yes. But that would hurt too damn much.

    Passionate Play that is Edgy can open people's eyes to things that they didn't know hurt, or didn't want to accept the pain of. But it can also just hurt too damn much. What is healthy? Where do we draw the line?

    More later, gotta go eat...
  • Well Drew, looks like it may be just us for the time being. So with that in mind, let's dig into our experiences a bit.

    The common thread I see in each of our games that blew up on us is, participants were putting a lot of emotional investment into their play--to the point where investment in the events of play is a one to one match for investment in real life events--without setting up any safe parameters or trust relationships. That doesn't mean there wasn't any trust; these were your close friends, as they were mine (family, even!). It just means there wasn't any intentionality in making a safe trust space to "go there," wherever "there" may be. If you asked me, "Joel, do you trust your sister-in-law C, like really trust her?" I'd have said "of course." But we never worked out any kind of agreement, like "OK, we're going here, I've got your back, do you have mine?" I mean, why would we? It's "roleplaying," right, and everyone knows what "roleplaying" is, so let's just "roleplay." And as the unspoken assumptions of what "roleplaying" is continued to but up against each other in ways we couldn't admit or understand, the trust between me and C became frayed. Frayed to the point that when we fell out over the game, it felt like betrayal, to both of us.

    I single out C both because she was the member of the group that I had the most explosive and final clash with, AND because she's one of the people I was closest to. Others in the group were not nearly so intimate, so we escaped that feeling of bad blood. And a couple of members I had long-standing feuds with, I didn't ever feel safe with them or have any trust built. So while my play experiences with them were toxic, it doesn't hurt so much. It's just like "eh, that asshole, I remember the time he, blah blah blah." It's not like a scar on my soul the way C's and my broken relationship is.

    So, the closer we are to someone, the more willing we are to expose ourselves to them, the greater potential for hurt on both sides. Like, duh, right? So to open yourself up to be real without opening yourself up for heartache, you need safeguards. What kind of safeguards? This thread is for finding out.

    (I hesitate to talk about making IWNAY "safe." I do think that IWNAY is about being UNsafe in a way, about letting your guard down and allowing fiction to hurt, to touch tender places. But it should be a functional and supportive hurt. It may even be, at its best, a cathartic healing hurt, but at the very least it shouldn't be a damaging, estranging hurt. It should bring people closer, not wedge them apart.)

    So, I'll venture a first, rudimentary safeguard: the up-front agreement. State, in no uncertain terms, what sort of game this will be, and what people are getting in for. Look each other in the eye. Think of it as a contract, think of it as a ritual. The ceremonial element is important, saying out loud what you're about to do. This is both a warning label, to make sure no one is taken by surprise, and a setting of resolve, fortifying players up front so in the thick of it they won't flinch. This works great for Dreaming Crucible. The act of setting expectations has an affect on play thereafter. It emboldens us and makes us mindful of each other.

    Thoughts, experiences, questions? Drew, I'd particularly like to hear about your experience of playing Crucible, and how it (presumably!) avoided estrangement, and that non-viable, non-desirable feeling.

    Meantime, your "Edgy vs. Vulnerable" post is good stuff, and I hope to address it soon.

  • I've been lurking on this thread for a bit now. I'm enjoying it and I'd love to hear more about successful situations where you have used IWNAY to go to uncomfortable.

    Let us know if the results that came from your positive examples came from the rush of discomfort/taboo or were more therapeutic/cathartic.

    I'm new to Story Games, but I want to know what to shoot for and how to get there with IWNAY.
  • A few things:

    Part of the issue is the selection of the game group, not just the design of the game ("safeguards", "rules", etc.). The fact is that there is a fundamental part of our social ... etiquette? law? tradition?... that one builds up intimacy, trust, etc. with people over time and in something of a structured manner. When people we've just met start telling us intimate truths, it's very discomforting. Likewise, when people we've grown close to hold us at arm's length - that can also be discomforting. Someone that I've shared sexual insecurities with may feel comfortable telling me the same, but isn't necessarily comfortable discussing their familial issues with me. It's very, very easy to break the rules of 'opening up'.

    If I were to go with a IWNAY game exploring, let's say, rape I would ideally - to minimize the chance of crossing lines - want people with whom I have fairly similar levels of intimacy in general, and regarding rape in specific. Otherwise, odds are pretty good someone's going to get their toes stepped on. This is high-stakes emotional stuff, though, so "stepped on toes" are drama and pain.

    That's hard, though! Game groups are heterogenous! A couple people had a rape experience, a couple didn't, some are male, some female, some long-time friends, some are new acquaintances, some are somber at difficult moments, otherwise are nervous laughers, some you may have had a romantic past with, etc. That's before factoring in all the aforementioned issue: violating all of our social rules of vulnerability to explore it in the context of a game.

    Frankly, I don't think it's consistently achievable, even when one knows ahead of time what sensitive topic one plans on addressing. If one is just gathering for a game and committing to forge through sensitive topics - whatever they may be - then you can't even agree to it ahead of time, nor plan your group selection accordingly, because you don't know what's going to pop up.

    Generally, I don't think I'm a fan of IWNAY. The social contract of games includes "this is a collaborative effort, if you back out you fuck it up for all of us," making it difficult to back out when you get uncomfortable (and why people tend to sabotage games in-character when things go ick). IWNAY pretty much places a "trusting" interpretation on the above social commitment, but that's what I dislike about it: in any other media, going to a place that makes you uncomfortable makes it A-OK for you to back out. The IWNAY compact says "let's explore a story of X, but don't leave if you start feeling uncomfortable." If you have planned ahead of time to explore rape, maybe that's fair - the players are committing to it. But if it's just a general commitment, and you can't even agree or disagree ahead of time "on these topics IWNAY, on those topics I'm f'n outta here"?

    Which I think leads to the DnD of IWNAY (where house-ruling is instant, instinctual, and mandatory): for IWNAY to work, I think it has to be predicated not on "IWNAY" but on "I will not abandon you lightly," where as opposed to NGH's lines and veils, you have... multiple lines, like the ascending levels of a geological map. These things I will tolerate gladly; these I will engage with less; these just barely; these not at all. Always the social compact has to include an escape clause: any social compact to play that "locks" people in (by social pressure; obviously no one's being handcuffed to the game) just seems, in my eyes, to be begging for dysfunction.

    Disclaimer: my longest/most formative play experiences all took IWNAY for granted, in a classically dysfunctional DnD group. This, in practice, amounted to outright sexual abuse of several people, myself included. As a result, I'm extremely skeptical of IWNAY. Primum non nocere.
  • So, i want to start with something:

    This thread itself begs the possibility of speaking and hurting.
    Before i put anything else out here i just want to say it's not my intention to shut anyone down, or to react negatively toward something i may not understand or fully recognize. I intend to take all the thoughts put here very seriously, and i'm going to try to do that with an open mind. But i do have a history of talking out loud and hurting peoples feelings. Consider this a pre-apology if i do. I really, truly don't mean to hurt anyone.
  • miedvied — great, great post.

    I think the component of IWNAY that maybe you haven't experienced or that is tough to imagine is that the group, out-of-game, is acknowledging the pain you're going through in dealing with this issue *even while simultaneously* continuing to push at it in-game. It's the feeling of sympathy and support from the group that might allow a gamer to go on with something that is difficult.

    That thing about "if you back out you fuck up the experience for all of us," though—man, that is a tough one, and it's brutal even when the game's fictional content is pretty lightweight. It's one reason why so many gamers have given up on campaigns and long-term play entirely. But I think functional IWNAY play mainly comes when there is a long-term, functional campaign going on, *or* in a shorter-term game really designed for that experience (Grey Ranks comes to mind here).

    I also want to add my support for the "edgy vs. sincere vulnerable engagement" distinction.

  • One of the reasons i feel there's a bit of clunky, uncoordinated movement around this topic is because the definition is very, very broad. We've already thrown out a lot of interpretations in the other thread, and it's leaving a sort of multi-directional embrace for this very duotone concept.

    At the Beginning:
    How i hear it, the briefest of definitions:
    "I Will Not Abandon You" - you all recognize your "buttons might get pushed."
    "Nobody Gets Hurt" - you back down from emotional conflict.

    These are both paraphrases at best. But you see the big, amazing gaps here, right? "Buttons might get pushed" could mean a *lot* of things. And before we've really looked at that, we've already brought up the exploration of 'healthy' IWNAY play.

    Now, i've not been around this kind of game discussion long. The vast majority of my experience with Gaming is the classic word-of-mouth, trained-by-my-elders, met-'em-at-the-Gamestore kind of lifestyle. A lot of what i've been taught is a wonderful re-wording of the basic thoughts you'd find here or on the Forge. The depth is greater here, and the scientific mindset is wonderfully pervasive. But i'm definitely a newcomer to this scene. So please, if there's a ton more on IWNAY that's already been said, please, let me know. For all i gather there's a dozen essays on a half dozen other arcane blogs out there that might put me (or anyone lurking) all on the same page. But for now i'm going to ask about some things that i think are being assumed here.

    My Perspective in the Middle:
    It seems like some people are not entirely interested in the concept of a 'healthy' experience with IWNAY play. In fact some people are not concerned with catharsis. It seems there are Gamers out there (and there must be, there's always a 'somebody out there' that fits any eccentric description) that want games to 'push their buttons' in a way that could make them feel angry, upset, afraid, hurt, or even sickly. I cannot deny that extreme emotions in extreme situations still fit the definition of "buttons getting pushed."

    It also seems that some people want to play games that 'push their buttons' because the negative feelings will have positive repercussions. It's a simple formula, but by exploring issues that make us uncomfortable or frightened we can grasp their elements on a deeper level. This might not make it any easier, and it might be obvious that it won't, but it will make us more full. In short (and it's a horribly trite way of saying this) to quote Calvin fake-quoting his father: "Doing something miserable builds character." This is only slightly different from the version i just talked about, but it's also still legitimate, still a part of the loose definition, as i'm reading it.

    The third way i'm seeing it executed is to play games with an open heart. To engage the fiction in a way that will affect you emotionally. It could be said that crying because your awesome D&D character, Sturm Brightsaber, just died is a totally perfect example of IWNAY play. Your buttons have been pushed, you're crying. The others at the game are okay with that, they're going to keep playing through it, and they'll expect you to do the same if they hit -5HP.

    What I Came Here For
    I can't attest to what a game will do when it strikes our heart. I can only tell you stories about what it's done to me. I can only empathize when you speak about what it's done to you. Most of my tales are gag-reals staring countless D&D characters that made epic fantasy look like a Monty Python sketch. But i have played some very close games, with some very close friends. And on more than one occasion the game is what unearthed in us the things that would cut us apart. It's hard not to look at the loss of my friends and not believe whole-heartedly that, if we'd just been playing D&D goddamit, we'd still be friends. We'd not know the underlying truth of us, yes, but we'd still be there for each other.

    I'll just say this as straightforward as i can. I'm not interested in emotional gaming for the sake of pain. I'm not interested in building character through uncomfortable or hard experiences. I'm not here to game through suffering. I'm not saying i couldn't be sold on the concept, and i'm not saying i want that out of my game (or else i'd be filling up a thread called "Nobody Gets Hurt" - How do we do it?).

    I am very, very interested in sharing axioms that might strengthen the bond between people who play a game that are closely, wonderfully connected, and are in danger of uncovering parts of themselves that will severely scar the others sharing the game with them. I want to know how to play a game with the "I Will Not Abandon You" attitude and have that specifically mean that i am aware of the emotional wounds that can come from sharing the deeper parts of who you are without severing the relationship to those you reveal yourself to.

    Concepts here, to me, are the ramifications of honesty, religion, opinions of violence, the extremes of Hope, etc.

    Sorry this was so damn long
    I hope i didn't trigger everyones "tl;dr" breaker. I just wanted to point out that IWNAY does not have to be healthy or safe, by many loose definitions, and that i, personally, am specifically interested in exploring the actually healthy and safe ways of Not Abandoning your friends. I game with awesome people at rad cons like FabRealities and GoPlay, but the rest of the time i'm in huddled corners of my metro area sharing very personal aspects of myself through the shared experience of imagined worlds. At least twice the activity has opened parts of myself and others that killed our friendship. I'd like to find out why, and how to keep it from happening again. That's why i'm here, that's why i'm posting.
  • I think the concept of IWNAY also includes the idea, of, hey, you know, if things get way too intense and you end up *needing* to back off of something in the game or calling for a short break or whatever, that's okay too. Knowing your real boundaries and being willing to admit when they are too close to getting crossed is still a thing in IWNAY, it just looks different than in NGH, because in NGH we won't even come meaningfully close to those uncomfortable areas.

    >>I'm not interested in emotional gaming for the sake of pain. I'm not interested in building character through uncomfortable or hard experiences. I'm not here to game through suffering.<<

    As someone who is pretty "macho" about emotionally hardcore gaming, I nevertheless agree with this sentiment. I think it's really about being able to tell the kinds of stories we want to tell, which may entail as a side-effect some really nasty stuff. Actually setting out to be emotionally hurt by a game does seem unwise, I concur.

  • So, if you guys in participation (and anyone considering following) can we do an exercise real quick?
    I was thinking: let's list our experiences, in brief, where we came across something difficult in play, and why we liked playing through it. Then we can list other experiences that were difficult to play through, and why we didn't like it. That's pretty vague, yeah, but it might be a place to start...
  • Good thinking. I've been leading with the negative experiences, thinking to work through that to arrive at a positive model, but leading with the positive might be more productive, or at least more pleasant!

    So, two of my experiences have been linked already: the two recent Dreaming Crucible games. In the first, we enacted an angry, verbally abusive father-son relationship eerily similar to my own from childhood, me playing the analog to my own father. I liked playing through it because I got a tiny piece of closure on the tensions that were left unresolved when my father died. The key elements were my effort to put myself into my own dad's mindset--to identify with him at his angriest and ugliest--and the in-character compassion extended by Lisa, playing the son.

    In the second Crucible, we set up a scenario of potential physical and sexual abuse by a family member, and in the Faerie world played out a shadowy version of a rape--spiritualized, but not sanitized. The Heroine later the defiance to stand up to her abusers--both the nemesis in Faerie and her uncle in the real world. I liked playing through it because it felt like the right and fitting thing based on the Dream we'd revealed together. It would be real tempting to let our teenage protagonist off the hook, to make her perils and suffering just a LITTLE bad, but not TOO bad--but it would be untrue, and do the character a disservice. By telling the truth, however unpleasant, we honored the character and the story.

    I'd like to go back to a couple of older experiences, involving different games. first, the game of Nicotine Girls I played two years ago with Michael, Ogre and Johnstone. It was uncomfortable because I, as the GM, was required to crush the Girls' hopes and spirits ruthlessly with each failed roll. I liked playing through it because, like the second Crucible game, we said something real and poignant because the game wouldn't let me (and I wouldn't let myself) flinch away from telling the ugly truth.

    Finally, the Montsegur 1244 game I played with John Aegard and several others. It was uncomfortable because the whole Montsegur premise is gut-wrenching, but most specially because of the way children and adolescents were stuck under in the care of terrible, twisted, traumatized adults who were passing on their own legacies of guilt and brutality to the youngsters. the harlot Arsende placed herself in the tutelage of the Cathar Perfects, terrified of her own carnal lusts. The orphaned little girl walked through life in a daze, followed the Cathar women down the mountain on a martyr's quest, and was spitted on Crusaders' pikes. The orphaned boy Amiel idolized the Knights, who were only too happy to befriend, teach him to fight, take him on sortie...and the Captain Pierre Roger (played by me) treated him to his first kill--ramming a sword through the throat of a pinned, pleading enemy.

    Also, in Pierre's story, his wife Philippa had her baby, but grew distant from him, putting up walls and cutting him out of her decisions, all while he was finding fitful solace with Arsende the harlot. The themes that emerged ended up being eerily reminiscent of--while I hasten to say, not being the same as--some marital problems I was going through. A scene where he held his newborn daughter for the first and last time choked me up as the father of a baby girl myself.

    I liked playing through these things because, in the case of the traumatized children, it said powerful things to me about the way we, out of well-,meaning necessity, pass on our scars to our children. Pierre thought the world of that kid Amiel, and the best he could do by him is teach him to murder, and strangle all the joy in the boy's brain. Again, we told the truth. In the case of the marital themes, it was illuminating to me to see my own hurt reflected in fiction. It wasn't, again, the same; I wasn't seeing a prostitute and my wife did not die of illness. But the pangs of estrangement and strained fatherhood were palpably familiar, and caused me to examine deeply (and begin to repair) my real relationship.

    That'll do for tonight. More thoughts on everything in the morning!

  • Joel, I suspect that you might have a better lead on this if you look at when folks have successfuly "received" intimate play experiences. If sometimes trying to express what is personal and difficult works well, and sometimes not, I suggest exploring the dynamics of the communication at work - and for this you need to take a look at how we listen and support vulnerability. After all communication can fail any where between the speaker's thought and the listener's undertanding.

    - Mendel
  • Joel, you're hitting the perfect chord. Can you unpack some of this stuff for us? You say "We Told the Truth" a lot, what does that mean to you? You mention the catharsis of your relationship with your father reflected in the DC game, why do you think that worked? What did it lead you to, how much do you think that was situational vs. game-mechanic vs. group?

    Also, i noticed that you mention the names of those present in most of these games. How have the players you were sharing this with affect you? I know i met Lisa the first time for that DC game, and if i'm not mistaken so did you. Does the magic of "You can tell more to a stranger than you can to a friend" apply?
  • edited June 2011
    Sorry for the delay, everyone! It's been a crazy weekend. Crazy GOOD, though. :)
    Posted By: graypawnCan you unpack some of this stuff for us? You say "We Told the Truth" a lot, what does that mean to you? You mention the catharsis of your relationship with your father reflected in the DC game, why do you think that worked? What did it lead you to, how much do you think that was situational vs. game-mechanic vs. group?
    Yeah, I noticed that was a recurring theme. Not surprising since this is a very big deal for me. This is something I've picked up from Willem Larsen's concept of "Storyjamming." Willem likes to talk about creating a "bubble" of story and remaining immersed in play to the point of maintaining the bubble and not "popping" it. One of the aims of Fulency Play is keeping game rules and techniques as effortless and natural as possible so the bubble remains intact.

    As Willem says in the above article, under Elements, "When we Story-jam, we share the same vivid waking Dream." This has a lot of implications, but the important one for IWNAY purposes is that we're not trying to give our characters the worst, most traumatic experiences imaginable. It's easy to make up horrible things to happen to people, right? If you've ever watched the TV show Lost, it can feel like that sometimes: "What's the worst thing that can happen to Charlie this week? What's the most terrible childhood trauma we can give Sawyer? What terrible misfortune can top what we did to Kate LAST time?" But that's cheap. I'm looking for play experiences that get us there 'honestly," by following where the game and the fiction lead. As Willem says:
    Therefore, we see, rather than invent. We go there, to the vividly imagined place, and then bring it back in words and gestures.
    This isn't the same as an Ouija Board kind of play where we pretend the story tells itself and nobody takes responsibility for their input. IWNAY is all about responsibility. No, this play approach is about respecting the fiction and adding to it naturally, with techniques like "play the obvious," and "go for average." Trusting yourself to say the "obvious," "average," "boring" thing means you'll most often say the exactly right thing. This is why the first principle of The Dreaming Crucible is "Say What You see."

    This is especially important for IWNAY because as I said, we need to earn our emotional resonance. This relates to the "Edgy vs. Vulnerable Engagement" issue. We need to be honest, both so that we avoid shoving the uncomfortable and tragic in where it doesn't fit, and also so we can bravely forge ahead and not flinch away when honesty demands we go to dark places.

    The temptation to be an emo masochist is a real one. There's a quality of "rawness" that some players, myself included, really crave in our play. Willem explained his experience of it in this old comment on my blog:
    I think [rawness] emerges when I take risks, real risks. When I do uncomfortable things. I feel exposed, vulnerable, not in a comfortable way, but not in a painful way. My best description of the “rawness” feeling: I feel and move differently, like a shamanic tarzan, my body crackles with energy. Almost as if I turned my self-censor off during the storyjam, but never turned it on again when I finished.
    As you can see, it's a powerful feeling. not for everybody, but if you've caught the longing, it can be a bit overwhelming. This is why the watchword to "tell the Truth" is so important to keep the urge focused and channeled, so the the result has integrity. Anybody can throw rape or child abuse or daddy issues into a game just to be edgy. The thing that takes discipline and strong procedures, the thing that requires, and rewards, trust, is honestly following the fiction together.

    As Ron said in my Dreaming Crucible AP on the Forge:
    I'd read your blog account of the first game, and I'll tell you, it bugged me. It's because the account was so oriented toward personal therapy, not toward the production and enjoyment of fiction.

    But that second one is the right-on exact stuff, I mean, of the sort that you and I have directly and indirectly been discussing for a couple of years now. You and the others honored the material and made something good.
    "honored the material and made something good." That's exactly it.

    Which seems like a good place to lead into that all-important dimension of the other players at the table, giving AND receiving intimacy, and how the whole trust thing works. And just what DOES constitute "abandoning" anyway? More soon!

  • edited June 2011

    I think you've opened the door to what I've been wanting to add to this thread. One of the problems I have with the idea of establishing Lines upfront or thinking of IWNAY as a pre-play opt in/opt out on the basis of pre-play topics is that very notion of being honest to the fiction in the moment of creation.

    It may seem all well and good to say, "Oh, you're going to play a war story, yeah, I'm not into that right now, think I'll pass." But I prefer to start further back than that with just raw color and some tone and mood buy in. That's what makes games like Grey Ranks actually *safer* than a game like Sorcerer because it's all up front about what it's about and where it's going.

    But when you start with just atmosphere and tone and mood and some cool pics I downloaded off google images, you don't know what those things are going to say to people. And even past, setup you don't know where that material as we speak to it and it speaks back will take us. You play in that honest place and often you find yourself turning down an alley you never, ever imagined you would go down when you first started the game. When you're playing in that space it's just not possible to guarantee that any content of one kind or another isn't going to come up.

    And here's the thing: I really think most gamers who haven't played this way (or just don't want to) have trouble understanding/imagining that space. *Especially* the ones who like playing affected tragic characters. They don't seem to understand that playing affected tragic doomed characters who endure *calculated* hardship is just as safe as playing heroes who can't possibly fail. These two preferences like to poo-poo on each other and they just don't realize that they're each doing the exact same creative activity just with different pre-play expectations at start up.

    When all you have is a color palette and commitment to painting the truth with it, you just can't guarantee what the subject matter is going to be.

  • So, more directly, what is 'painting the truth' or 'telling the truth?' What are examples of truth in role-playing, what are examples of untruth (if that's an appropriate word)?
  • Posted By: graypawnWhat are examples of truth in role-playing, what are examples of untruth (if that's an appropriate word)?
    There's A LOT of this going on right now in the Sorcerer game I'm playing with CK and Colin. Here's a couple of simple examples. They're simple because they pertain only to me and not between people.

    So I'm playing Gias, The High Priest of Moravia, Goddess of Death. My Kicker for this game was that my priestess was kidnapped by orcs. So here's what I wanted to do. I really wanted take up a sword, kill an orc with it and turn it into a Necromantic Token which would basically give me a stack of permanent bonus dice for killing more orcs. Now here's where the whole "telling the truth" enters into it.

    Gias, has the ability to death touch things. With the power level of his Goddess it really is a death touch. If he can touch you, you will die, the end, period. Thus killing an orc with my death touch would be WAY, WAY easier than killing him with a sword. By the rules there's nothing stopping me from first death touching the orc and then say, plunging the sword into the corpse, and saying some prayer to draw his passing life into the sword or something like that. Mechanically, that would work just fine and it's not too far of stretch fictionally either.

    But that just didn't sit well with me. It violated two "truths" about the fiction as I saw it.

    1) That just didn't sit well with me in terms of the thematics of the ritual. I wanted to make a sorcerous orc slaying sword. The way you do that is you slay an orc with the sword. To kill with the death touch and *then* bringing the sword into just didn't sit right with me.

    2) It didn't sit well with my own vision of my character. In my mind, my death touch is kind of like rapid aging including decomposition and decay. So visually, when I touch something, it literally turns into dust. Again, there's nothing in the rules about this. This is purely my own narrative integrity to my creative vision for my character. Even if I hedged on #1 above I'd also have to hedge on my character vision because there's no way I'm creating a necromantic token from a pile of dust. So I'd have to say, "Well, no this time he doesn't dust, he just falls over dead, so I can plunge the sword into him and...."

    Yeah, that's all wrong. None of that is telling the truth about who my character is or the thematics of his sorcery.

    Okay, now a more complicated example.

    So there Gias is, sword in hand looking for an orc to kill. So Colin is playing an orc named Golgrek. Golgrek happens to be within line of sight of the fortress and he's having this vision about how the fortress once belonged to the orcs before the humans came and took it over. Golgrek cries out in rage. So look at the fiction: Just as Gias rides out of the fortress with orc murder and necromancy on his mind, he hears an orc cry out nearby.

    The "truth to be told here" is that Gias rides straight for that cry and kills the orc that made it. An orc who happens to be another PC. Do you see, that we're already at an IWNAY moment? I want a necromantic orc killing token. My commitment to getting it is via killing an orc with a sword. The most obvious fictional orc at hand is my fellow PC. We could play it safe. We could satisfy my want by saying that between here and there I come across ANOTHER orc or something.

    So, I look over at Colin and he just nods at me. He's into it. We're going to have this fight, right here right now. Now here's the thing, see, narrative truth begets narrative truth (when backed up by mechanics). I'm committed to killing with the sword and not using my death touch for thematic reasons. Gias just isn't that good with a sword and Golgrek is a giant hulking orc. I have a ton of bonus dice going for me because I ran him down on my horse and do land a rather substantial opening blow. A blow that would kill a lesser man in fact.

    But Sorcerer has that neat mechanic where you can master yourself with Will rolls and Golgrek is up to full capacity the very next round and Gias finds his head being bashed into a rock. So now let's look at the fiction. Gias who is not much of a fighter is in the hands of a bleeding, enraged orc who is bashing his head in. Gias just goes limp and Golgrek drags him back to his clan.

    So you see we rode the truth of the fiction, and we trusted the game (which is why there's a game design component to this discussion) to ferry us to someplace new and interesting and it did.

  • edited June 2011
    Something I'm curious about but would be a derail to pursue in this thread -- Jesse, could you detail in a whisper or another thread about the Sorcerer-mechanical basis for the death touch? I've been reading Sorcerer lately and so I'm interested in how particular fictional effects get built out of the demon powers in real play (and I don't know of any bigger fans of sorcerer than you and CK...)
  • Posted By: edheilJesse, could you detail in a whisper or another thread about the Sorcerer-mechanical basis for the death touch?

  • Jesse, that's great stuff. It brings up an aspect of IWNAY that's easy to lose sight of (even for me--ESPECIALLY for me), which is that the buttons pushed don't have to be huge, traumatic, capital-I Issues, like rape, abuse, daddy issues, and so on. They CAN just be the 'buttons" of our emotional investment in a character, and wanting to maintain a certain image of them or achieve a certain outcome for them. IWNAY kicks in when that image or that outcome is challenged, and we all, through our mutual commitment to vulnerability, play it through and don't ease the pressure off or drop out (either emotional disengagement or literal dropping out of the game). You know all those stories from high school where someone got their character killed off and they ragequit the game and never came back? That's IWNA failure in action. A few years ago I wrestled in my blog with why others' in-game actions were making me feel icky, and I recently chronicled a years-long stretch of passive-aggressive resentment culminating in just such a ragequit.

    Now, this may not look like IWNAY failure, because there was no such agreement in place. But that's the point--there was NO agreement in place, so we were all on our own from instance to instance as to whether anyone would have their buttons pushed and in such a situation what everyone's response should be. Responses were varied from person to person and case to case, from "that's fine, bring it on" to "passive-aggressive resentment, to a flat-out "fuck you!" (that was me, I'm sorry to say.)

    So what we're really talking about here is a failure of TRUST. Whatever your agreement, NGH, IWNAY or something else, you need a baseline of trust among the players to enact it. The PVP guy in my "paying your dues" link? His past actions over the course of 7-8 years included fireballing the party to test his theory that the GM would save us no matter what; trying to get his PC killed through nonsensically suicidal actions rather than tell me, the GM, that he was tired of playing him; and telling two of us "make a Wisdom check to resist the urge to rape her," when we saw a Dryad PC naked. There was absolutely no trust there.

    This is just the trust necessary to do roleplaying at all. it's a very vulnerable thing to do, being creative in front of each other, saying things that bump up against each other's input, that creative friction. It's fairly high-stakes in the first place. IWNAY isn't some peculiar ultra-emo subset of roleplaying; it's a very broad camp that covers everything from "I'm gonna kill you with my Orc-slaying sword because that's the truth about my character" to "we're going to play through this child-rape scene because that's the truth of these events." I've been paying special attention to the latter type because those are situations that require particular care, but arguably it's the former type that deserves attention because they're far more common.

    This is all pointing to a need to define the "abandon" in I Will Not Abandon You. Coming up!

  • So, intimacy! That's a big deal, of course. Folks are quite right to point out that the intimacy level of participants is a vital concern when sharing uncomfortable things in a position of vulnerability. J. Stein points out:
    Posted By: miedviedThe fact is that there is a fundamental part of our social ... etiquette? law? tradition?... that one builds up intimacy, trust, etc. with people over time and in something of a structured manner. When people we've just met start telling us intimate truths, it's very discomforting. Likewise, when people we've grown close to hold us at arm's length - that can also be discomforting.
    So, IWNAY depends on intimacy. Or maybe it's better to say that IWNAY will only be as strong as the intimacy bonds of the players who are practicing it. So you could get a mild form of IWNAY in a pickup game with complete strangers but achieve a much stronger form with close friends and loved ones that you play with over the course of years.

    And that's fine. There's a tendency to radicalize when talking about something passionate and personal like this, but IWNAY doesn't have to go all the way to 11 in every game all the time, even for us diehard folks. You gotta match your trust level and intimacy level to the situation at hand.

    I think what we really need to hash out is assessment tools for correctly gauging what level of vulnerability is appropriate in various situations, and trust-building tools work with whatever intimacy foundation exists in a given game.

    Drew said:
    Posted By: graypawnAlso, i noticed that you mention the names of those present in most of these games. How have the players you were sharing this with affect you? I know i met Lisa the first time for that DC game, and if i'm not mistaken so did you. Does the magic of "You can tell more to a stranger than you can to a friend" apply?
    Actually, I'd say for me it's the opposite...sort of.* There are all kinds of potential barriers to trust in human interactions, and gaming's no exception. Playing with strangers at a con presents all kinds of barriers--lack of shared history, lack of emotional bond, inconducive environment for relaxed, unselfconscious creative collaboration. So for a con game you've got to eliminate those barriers really quickly, as best you can. Making sure we all introduce ourselves is a great start. It's the real-life version of Apocalypse World's "name everyone, make everybody human." I strive to remember those names after the game so I can remember the humanity of those I played with. They become individuals who have made art with me, distinct from the faceless masses of congoers. In fact, it was bugging me that I couldn't remember the name of the woman who played my wife Philippa in the Montsegur game--Susan, maybe?--because she gave me the gift of a very moving experience, and I wanted to honor her, individually, for that.

    In fact, that might be something key: I look at roleplaying as a gift, that we give and receive with each other. IWNAY is a way of giving and receiving gifts that are even more precious, because they're so close to our heart. The IWNAY ethos is all about honoring that.


    *the "sort of" is because close long-term intimacy can carry its own baggage and barriers. Grudges or sore spots, long-standing personality clashes, unresolvable differences in opinion...these things can positively fester in long-term relationships. And when the topic is as touchy as shared vulnerable creation of art, the infection can be toxic indeed. The longstanding group that I quit, referenced above, was just such a group. Some of us cared really deeply for each other, which made the pain of creative and emotional clashes so acute that when it finally spilled out into open conflict it was really damaging for all concerned. That was a particularly dysfunctional example, but I think these kinds o things can be an issue for more functional intimacy, and tools to deal with them is worth addressing.
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