Pull Clarification and Promises! Promises!

Brand said something in the post over on anyway that I’m really rather thankful for:

For now, let me say that one of the things I think is going on is that everyone in the discussion is talking about pull/push on different levels. Mo was talking about it at the social level, as a rhetorical stance that people take towards the power dynamic of game. It then quickly moved into discussion of techniques and ephemera that enable such a stance, and from there into the underlying logic of game theory.

This is absolutely true. I see now where I might have contributed to the confusion between the elements up there. You see, I’m not used to talking to y’all. When something pours out of my head at Brand, where they always invariably go, he gets it, and I don’t have to make strict delineations. I see why the bigger forum needs them. I might not always use your lingo, cause quite frankly it’s hard to get a hold of. From what I’ve seen there’s a lot of internal debate about the naming of things too, you can just imagine what it’s like when you’re just looking in the window. I hope that doesn’t make you walk away – after all, just because somebody speaks a different language doesn’t mean they don’t have good ideas.

For the record, I am interested in a lot of things about pull:

  1. I am interested in it at the social level as a viable alternative to, or married partner of push.
  2. I am interested in (some, not all) pull techniques as viable immersionist methods — both mechanical and social level — that may create better harmony, by providing more active, less immersion-destructive forms of authoring characters to meet the needs of the story, game or social contract.
  3. I am interested in examining current games to identify mechanics that support pull or push play, and see how using those mechanics feel different from each other.
  4. I would like to see more mechanics that support pull play in games in general to create a better balance, support those who prefer it over, or like it along with their push play. I am interested in talking about ways to accomplish this.
  5. I’m curious about the concept of seeing if an all-pull game is possible, and finding out if I’d like it or not (I suspect it would probably be not, but not as much as I would an all-push) Note: I’m not at all claiming to have the foggiest idea what an all-pull game would look like or contain, so don’t rag me on it until I give some indication that I think I do.

In the previous post, I was introducing #1 in the hopes of moving toward #2 in my next post and hopefully #3-5, down the line if people were interested. – well, I think I got my answer there.

So, to that end, I’m going to start fresh tomorrow after work, and see if I can get down my next intended post that will discuss some Actual Play examples that I think are indicative of the potential of pull and talk about their effects on the games they were in.

In the meantime, go check out Brand’s post: Brand Pushes and Pulls and Blows Himself Down. That should keep the discussion rolling along.

12 thoughts on “Pull Clarification and Promises! Promises!”

  1. Hey, I came to your previous post yesterday via Jonathan Walton’s blog, 1001, and I thought I immediately connected with the idea of the Push/Pull dynamic. Then I went over to anyway. and read a lot of the comments over there and was stuck wondering if I really did get it, or what.

    So, I really appreciate the clarification here and on Brand’s blog.

  2. Jess, I think Vincent adopted Pull as a way of supporting his own current interests in breaking down a player’s hegemonic control of their PC. But that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with using Pull in other areas.

    To me, Pull just seems to be a general design/play philosophy at this point (giving instead of competing, etc.), and I imagine it’ll stay that way until people begin to look more closely at it and build structures to support it. Then, we might be able to say, “Well, play technique A is a good way of getting more Pull into you game…”

    I think there can be a tendency for people to try to define terms very specifically, to make sure they understand them (which is sorta what happened at Anyway), but I don’t think Mo means for her Push/Pull categories to be used like that and I think it would limit and disservice them.

  3. Jonathan,

    That sounds about right to me.

    Of course, as I explore it I’m realizing more and more that push and pull are not the yang and yin we were taking them for.

    Pull certainly is an important part of yin play — but it’s only one part. Pull can be yang play too, so it may also be useful to look at the places where pull leads to cooperation as opposed to those where it just becomes another competition.

  4. This is an example of Actual Play with my friend Bryan when we Freeform. Free forming with Bryan was some of the best fun I‘ve had in gaming. Bryan and I both had main characters that had lots of strings to pull, but the freeform style was still gm based, so I played Tarry and all the NPCs good and bad and Bryan just played Bryan Doomsayer.

    Doomsayer: Raised by mages but he can’t do book magic. He has glimpses of the future that he can’t control. He doesn’t know who his real family is. His ambition is to find a woman who also sees visions and Father and family of powerful mages. Due to his abusive childhood he fears mages. His a 6 foot tall, milk white skin and gray eyes and sunlight doesn’t effect him. (although it can give him a really bad burn he never tans)

    Tarry: Is short. (4’5”) Empath, can talks to animal, plant or person feel what they feel, share with them his own feelings and even the memories of feelings. Likes to tinker with magic items. Has made an enemy of a man who can turn himself into a dragon. Has a highly powerful and dysfunctional family. Is a prince. Is a pragmatic-idealist. Oh. And he’s a little accident prone.

    Me- What’s Bryan doing?
    Bryan- He’s exploring the city.

    Me- Ok, Bryan’s traveling along when he suddenly gets a vision. In the vision a pretty girl looks up, screams and is decapitated. The pretty girl from the vision is currently across the street singing for a crowd.

    (Bryan has a choice. He can ignore the vision and leave the girl to her fate. Or he can act on the vision. If he acts on the vision the question becomes how far will he go to save a stranger?)

    Bryan- I wait till she is done singing, then trying and convince her that his vision is true and that she is in real danger. (Then he pleas with her in character to warn her)

    (I have a choice now. I can have her reject his plea or I can act on his warning.)

    Now I have to create the Npc. All I know to begin with is that she sings and is pretty-oh and someone wants to cut her head off. I have the option of her walking away apathetic, but that would kill some of Bryan’s fun in playing a character who has visions. I decide the Pretty singer’s name is Lyra. I want her to be sympathetic the kind of girl one would want to protect, but I don’t want to make things too easy for Bryan.

    Lyra responds to Bryan’s warning and believes in his vision. I play up her getting all distressed. She tells him the man he described is Arek the Bloody and he’s been hunting her. She tells him she must go hide, for if Arek sees the two of them together he might kill Bryan just for sport. She will not be convinced to stay with Bryan.

    Bryan has a new choice, leave having warned Lyra or take further measures to protect her and possibly get killed. It’s a simple choice to make. Bryan decides to have Tarry help him find this Arek guy before Arek finds Lyra. Tarry is always happy to help and using his empathy to scan the area for people who feel like they are hunting, Tarry and Bryan chase down a false lead and then bump into Arek.

    I describe Arek as Even bigger than in the vision. I decide that Arek is a bully as well as a hired killer and so Arek is making a one-legged beggar dance by holding his little dog over a well.

    I am pulling Bryan I think. I’m asking him “What are you going to do about this?”

    Bryan wants to fight.

    Our freeform fights would work like this-

    Bryan – I tackle Arek. (push I think)
    Me- He’s bigger than you. He has armor on. (push back?)
    Bryan – I don’t care, he’s not paying attention to me, he’s tormenting the beggar, so I’m going to tackle his feet and knock him down.
    Me- I like that. When you do this he lets go of the dog.
    Bryan- I’ll let Tarry worry about the dog, do I have Arek on the ground?
    Me- yes he falls down cursing It looks like he’s trying to grab for you.
    Bryan- I’m trying to scramble on top. His armor should be helping me keep him down.
    Me- It only looked like he was grabbing for you, he was really grabbing for his dagger.
    Bryan- crap. I grab a rock to knock him out.
    Me- you can knock him out but you’ll take a hit with the dagger.
    Bryan- I could block the dagger with my rock- what’s Tarry doing?
    Me- (mischievous smile) You have no idea. The last you saw of him he was trying to save the dog.

    I’ve implied that Tarry has fallen into the well. Bryan must now choose. He can knock the bad guy out which would give him time to rescue Tarry out of the well. But He’ll take a hit with the dagger. He can block the dagger but he and Arek will struggle longer and his best friend might very well be drowning in a well. He opts to take the hit and knock out the bad guy trusting that getting stabbed with Arek’s dagger won’t kill him- or if it does kill him something cool will come out of it.

    Anyway is this all Pull play or is this Push and Pull Play?

  5. Kat,

    It’s really hard to say for sure about a lot of this. Without knowing player dynamics, it’s hard to tell you one way or the other. We don’t know your relationship or history with Bryan, your social contract, and neither of us are particularly versed at freeform play where social context is everything. That said, here’s the best guess:

    Me- What’s Bryan doing?

    That is the single biggest pull in the AP. It’s entirely open ended, carries few (if any) preconceptions, and what’s more, it seems to be pre-judged. It’s this statement: “I’m fully receptive and have no preference, so anything you want to do is OK by me.”

    From there, it seems you pull a little (enticing by creating interest in Lyra rather than enforcing interest in her) and push a little (giving him the vision in the first place).

    The pull or push could be stronger, or they could be transposed:

    You: OK, so you explore the city, and you come across a park. There’s a man sitting on a park bench feeding pigeons, a child flying a kite and a pair of lovers hanging off each other, and the world seems to pause between the moment that the world is beautiful and the moment it all goes wrong.
    Bryan: Here comes the vision.
    Me. Oh yeah. It’s about one of the people in the park It’s terrible and gruesome.
    Bryan: The little girl?
    You: Completely. Her head is being cut off…

    This would have been a much stronger example of pull play. You’re opening up opportunities for Bryan to step in and fill up. Of course my example is also hard to understand until the social dynamic is understood. Was Bryan really as free to say “That fish I ate for dinner last night takes a turn for the worse” when everything went wrong instead of going for the vision? Could he have run with the vision immediately on his own as in: “Oh god, my vision blurs, and there’s the President, and an assassin in the White House going after him!” Could have have stepped in and said, “Oh god. It’s the couple. She’s killing him and then killing herself.”? What did the social contract say he could do and how vs what he did and why he did it to fill it in would all count towards making the determination.

    Later, you introduce Arek to the game, which could have been a pull (here’s a door you can walk through) or a push (If you don’t do this, you will lose your investment) or even a manipulative push masquerading as a pull (If you make the “wrong” choice it will be enforced anyway).

    Once he accepts the combat, you seem to push most of the way.

    It’s hard to differentiate Bryan’s actions in this AP, because it’s written from your perspective and intent and desire is important to the discussion. At this point, it looks like Bryan is neither pushing nor pulling because he is just accepting both being pulled and pushed, he just exists in a state of passive reception. Pull and push are active attempts to accomplish something in play, not just reactions to what’s happening at you. The moment where he gets Tarry might be either a push or a pull depending on your social contract and Bryan’s expectations of his authority in the game. We can’t tell for sure.

    I’d like to also note that this is largely a discussion of pull and push transactions (i.e. we’re examining the ephemera), and while that’s part of what I was doing with the original post, it’s not the whole of it. I was also talking about pull social techniques (which take multiple transactions (possibly over a long series of time) in succession to accomplish). I’m not sure I’m confident enough in explaining that yet – nor of opening a new can of worms while I’m still trying to deal with the last one – but I should get to it in two or three posts.

  6. The actual play examples really help. I think a lot of confusion in the discussion of this subject could be averted if people used more of those.

    I’m thinking this is related to Ron’s wisdom in closing down the Forge theory forums 🙂

    – Christian

  7. Like others, I’ve been trying to get a firmer grip on push and pull. In regards to your goal #2, let me suggest taking a look at my post on this old Forge thread: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=4994.45

    I believe that the very basic (and old-school) technique I describe there represents a relatively “pure” implementation of Pull. Can anyone confirm or refute this?

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