Cognitive vs. Impassioned Play

I’ve thought for some time that one of the reasons we get so bollixed up when we talk about play styles is because although we often assume that we approach game the same way, we really, very much do not. I think there are a couple of things that we’ve neglected in discussion that merit more focus: the manner of our engagement with the game and the method of influence we choose to affect the game. Right now, I’m going to be talking about the first one and will cover the other in later posts.

Earlier this year when Brand I were talking Myer’s Briggs and gaming, we talked about whether a person, a player, or a character was a Thinking or a Feeling type. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time, both online and IRL watching the trouble that pops up when strong T’s and strong F’s try to do, well… anything together, but especially when they are working on theory and design, or in game creating stories together. More than ever I am convinced that a further understanding of this area would help us build better play groups, create more compatible play, deliberately design games that could choose to foster a particular kind of play, or accommodate different kinds of play in the design.

That said, I’ve consciously ditched the words Thinking & Feeling because I think they misleadingly point towards quantifying intellectual or emotional capability, which is decidedly NOT what I’m looking to do. Instead, I’m looking for a way to measure to what extent we consciously construct our games, and whether our goals in game trend towards being visceral or cerebral.

Some things to note before I go any father:

  • This isn’t an either/or proposition; I suspect most people will have at least a little of each, even if they have a very strong preference for one.
  • This isn’t a question of capability. Just because a player has a habitual place on the scale doesn’t mean in the right situation she couldn’t act another way and do it well.
  • There is no value attached to either end of the scale; there is no better, just better for you or better for the situation at hand.

So, instead, I’ve gone with Cognitive and Impassioned as the two ends of the scale. The Cognitive side speaks to a certain amount of, well, cognition in game. Decisions in the game are made consciously, deliberately, sometimes strategically and are usually based on a specific set of data points. The cognitive manner of play hopes to cerebrally engage the player in the process of playing the game or creating the story. Conversely, the Impassioned manner of play hopes to viscerally engage the player in the moment of play or the context of the story. Decisions in the game are made holistically, intuitively, in reaction to the emotional context of the story and its game objects (characters, setting, plot, etc).

When you interact with the game, do you want it to make you think or do you want it to make you feel, or both and in what proportion? When you are playing a suspense thriller kind of plot, will you feel the story churning viscerally in the pit of your stomach, or will you be endlessly, cerebrally trying to figure out whodunnit? Through the course of the game, do you forecast ahead to optimize the effect of the story/moment/action or do you intuit it, letting the passion of the moment guide you? Of course, you can be in the middle, too, but how far in the middle, where do you fall? What kind of gratification are you looking for as a result of the game, and what techniques, methods, talents, and skills do you use to achieve it?

Hint: In determining where you sit on the scale between Cognitive and Impassioned play, it is helpful to understand your payoff, your goal and, to a lesser extent, your socket.

So, in the last post, I stated my payoff as: “to experientially feel a sense of emotional euphoria as a result of a powerfully engaging story”. My goal in game is to experience as intense a catharsis as possible; the stories that churn my ovaries are full of deep visceral complications: tragedies, love, sex, betrayal, revenge and brutality. And in a character socket, I want to be down in the muck and the mire of the emotional messiness, and to live in and react to the moment of the game.

That’s a pretty clear emotional agenda in the context of cognitive vs. impassioned play. It can be paraphrased as: “I want to create an emotionally charged story, experience it viscerally, and let it be transformative to me.” On the scale between cognitive play and impassioned play, I’m closer to the impassioned edge than, well, most anyone I’ve ever played with (though I’m sure there are people with an even stronger tendency than I have). The purple dot is me:

Brand, the red dot, is an impassioned player too, but in his case, visceral intensity is not the whole end game: it’s an important facet to payoff, but not the payoff itself. As a strong story socket player (with a massive and talented wealth of GM experience), Brand requires that the story that he’s working on carries strong visceral resonance and impact because to Brand, that’s what gives stories lasting value. He’s intensely intuitive and non-constructed about the way he shepherds stories into existence, but he draws on an extremely impressive mental anthology of mythology, literary history and rhetoric which can’t help but temper his impassioned participation with a cognitive influence.

So, I’ll end this post quickly before Brand gets a big(ger) head. The point is that there is more than one way to skin, cook and eat your delicious payoff. You can deliberately construct it, which makes it a cognitive exercise, you can intuit your way by reacting to the emotionality of the moment in an impassioned pursuit of your goal, or you can fall somewhere in between.

Note: If you’re reading along with this and you’re nodding your head thinking “I’m a really smart and thinky kind of person, and I feel really good when/after roleplaying, I must be both!” Then you’ve missed the point. Scroll up and read the post again with this in mind: Mo’s a competitively intelligent Process and Systems Analyst who’s prone to deconstructive analysis, and she’s all way over on the impassioned side of the scale.

22 thoughts on “Cognitive vs. Impassioned Play”

  1. Hello Mo, glad that you’re writing online again (but sorry that means you can’t still be exploring India).

    Your ideas are growing in a greenhouse in a part of town I don’t know very well. If it’s alright I want to putter about in the greenhouse, pick up a few of the plantpots and noodle about in the toolbox. You don’t need to pay me any mind, and I’ll close the door on my way out!

    At the moment, I wonder in what ways Cog + Impassioned elements are free to combine. Leaving aside Sockets,

    -Pay-off – 2 polar examples could be “I solved the puzzle by being smart and using my reason” vs “I felt that development/ twist/realisation inside me, in a deep visceral way” – more or less the examples you gave before.

    -Goals – I’m slightly unclear about this, I know it’s more than CKK (elements from the Term Formerly Known As Immersion), but I’m not sure if I can easily untangle them from the pay-off. How about “I throw all of my intellect against the problems that emerge in play”; “I develop a story that leads me to hard places”; “I play from my gut, to take myself to the places the character would really go”.

    [If that works,] it seems you can have a cognitive route (the second goal?) to a visceral pay-off. But can you do it the other way, an emotional route/goal to a cognitive pay-off? At first blush, it feels to me that the cognitive-only pay-off is a special case, whereas the visceral pay-off is a pretty common desire, an indicator of “when the game is REALLY rocking”.

  2. I like the change in tone since you have been back…feels more comfortable, confident.

    Anyway, I like this model, but am not entirely sure I get your justification for putting Brand further to the right on your scale. To be clear, from what both of you have posted, I totally buy that he is further to the right, just that the reasons you give don’t quite mesh.

    You at least imply that he is more cognitive because he is drawing on his “extremely impressive mental anthology” during the game, but that doesn’t seem to have anything, per se, to do with being cognitive (i.e. strategizing with discrete data points, shepherding resources, etc.).

    That mental anthology, I suspect, is one of the ways he actually gets his visceral, impassioned kicks from a game. (although I freely admit that I may be projecting this–I tend to have ridiculously strong, visceral reactions to certain kinds of ‘intellectual’ content)

    It seems he is further to the right because he gets less intensely into the viscerality (i.e. gets less impassioned), which you dive deep into. I am not sure I am seeing a single scale with two poles (cognition v. impassioned), but two modes that interefere with each other, each having their own scale of intensity from high to low. The more intensely, the louder, one mode gets, the more difficult it is for the other mode to ‘kick in.’

    Which may be why you see someone like Brand able to do more ‘cognitive’ things in game, because he is getting less ‘interference’ from the visceral mode. You, on the other hand, have this visceral station jamming all over the bandwidth, leaving little room for the cognitive station to get its message out there. It may also be why you see people who flip during a game–essentially, one dial gets cranked up and starts to drown out the other one.

  3. Ian,

    Left. I’m farther to the left.

    And as for your “dial” … um, you do realize that a dial that switches between two modes is just a way of mixing a scale, right? I mean you say you don’t think there is a scale, and then talk about a sliding scale that has two different things taking up bandwidth, in which it is possible to have both things in the stream at the same time, but as you get closer to either end there is less room for the other, right? How is that not a scale?

    The one thing I can see an issue about is if you’re talking “all the time” vs “at a moment.” At that level I have to say I can see it being an almost either/or thing. However, at that point your place on the graph is simply determined by how much of one vs. the other you use on a regular basis.

    Since you’d asked about me, I’ll use myself as an example. I set up games very cognitively. Dogs town creation has nothing on me — I don’t feel my way through game setup, I think my way through it. I very specifically chose themes, set up conflicts, map out relationships, and create a situation with my thinky brain. Then, between the moment that I setup the game and the moment I go to run it, I have to stop and come back to the material emotionally. I listen to music, I chill and turn my brain off and get into the emotions of the situation I’ve created. I jazz myself up, and at that point I have to launch very quickly into game or else I will lose the moment and lose interest in playing.

    Now that sounds like the “either/or” you were talking about, right? I do one in one moment and another in another moment. However, even there I’m different than Mo (who sets up for game emotionally and then plays game emotionally) or.. um… probably Josh (who often sets up and then plays very cognitivly). Which means that if you take my play as a whole, I’m closer to the middle because I do both things more freely that either of the folks at the end.

    However, it gets even more complex when I’m actually in the moment of game running. I have this logically constructed theme and situation, right? I have this emotional build up that I’ve brought into game to get me going, right? So which do I use at any given moment of decision and interaction? The answer is, honestly, a little of both. I will go with my gut over my head every time, but thats only when there is a split between them. Most of the time I have more than one voice in my head, and several of them are analyzing and building logically and a slight margin more of them are crying, weeping, screaming, and rolling about on the ground. I switch back and forth rapidly between thinking and feeling, with feeling predominating. And as I come to the end of a game if my brain is buzzing and my heart isn’t, I am not happy. OTOH if I’ve not been mentally challanged once but am in tears, I’m probably happy.

    Note, that “mentally challenged” doesn’t just mean “solved the puzzle” or “horded resources” it can also be “addressed a powerful premise in a way that I constructed with thought and awareness of the statements I was making” or a hell of a lot of other things. If Mo is in a game about the lumpenprolitariate trying to deal with a kind but still dominating manager and she never gets to make a strong, thoughtful statement about Marxism she may still be happy if she gets to KILL A BITCH. (Josh, otoh, might be perfectly happy if he got to say something about Marxism, but didn’t have a strong emotional reaction in the moment at all. He may get emotional about it, but it would most likely be afterwards. I need at least a little of both. I’d rather be in tears than have made my strong, constructed statement — but I’d like the chance to do both to get my maximum payoff.

    Which brings me to another of your points: you talked about getting an emotional charge from intellectual content. How do you do this in game specifically? Does the intellecutal content give you an emotional charge in the moment? Like, do you think “Hey, Valadarian represents the plight of the noble under the feudal system, distanced from the people who should be his common support in a very Ernst von Glasersfeld manner?” and then at the exact same moment that you are thinking that think “I WANT TO KILL THE BITCH!” or do you think the first thing, and because of that get a charge (because you used your thinky brain) and then from that charge get an emotional reaction after the moment? That is, is the thought itself the emotion, or is the thought the way you get to the emotionality?

    Because I think that’s important to what Mo is talking about. Cognitive players still get emotional payouts, they just get them from a different mode, and often at a slightly different time, than impassioned players. Funny enough, Mo does get very thinky about her games from an external cognative angle — but she only does it after game. As she plays she’s down in it, after play she sits there and analyzes every aspect of it. In direct contrast I have friends who think think think durring game, but after game only reflect on it in a way designed to get their emotional payoff upon reflection of what they’ve created. Impassioned play can lead to cognitive after-analysis, or cognitive play can lead to emotional reflection. I think I do a little of both, and thus in the middle again.

    Also, there is nothing about any GNS mode that I can see that makes any of them relate directly to either end of this scale. You can be cognativly stepping on up or doing it all by guts and emotion, you can address premise the same way, and you can either feel your correct sim or think your correct sim. So, just to nip that one in the bud….

    Finally, I fucking hate blogger. Mo, we must move you to WordPress this weekend.

  4. Brand & Ian:
    Cognitive players still get emotional payouts, they just get them from a different mode, and often at a slightly different time, than impassioned players.

    Yes! And vice versa. I’m all impassioned in the moment, and might even get an emotional “hangover” from game, but in the wake of the game, do an incredible amount of analysis: I examine the dynamic of its relationships, the contextuality of its plot, I forecast what could happen, I retrocast and cognitively appreciate the path the game has taken.

    Impassioned players still get intellectual payouts, they just get them from a different mode, and often at a slightly different time, than cognitive players.

    Alex: Keep thinking about it, in a couple of posts, once I have all the pieces on the table, I’ll be talking about how they all interrelate.

  5. Shit, one day I would really like to be able to keep my left and right straight.

    First, re: dial. I am talking about dials, plural. To flesh out the nascent metaphor: two emitters who use the same bandwidth. The more use one is putting on the bandwidth, the less that is available for the other, unless they want to just turn the whole freaking thing into jangling noise.

    Which goes very nicely with your description of being a little bit of both in play–nice, symphonic play of the two emitters, managing to share the bandwidth.

    Now, “addressed a powerful premise in a way that I constructed with thought and awareness of the statements I was making” is interesting: because that seems to be an inherently impassioned sort of action, albeit one heavily moderated by a certain kind of cognizing craftiness.

    It seems like an already hybrid occurrence, in a way that Josh’s marxist statement might not be. One seems more like an impassioned plea (directed toward the premise, an emotional response to it, modulated by certain acquired skills), the other a pleasure (a tingling of the little grey cells) in the display of cleverness, like classical sophist exercise (not using the term derogatorily, btw).

    To myself: honestly, I spend a lot of time actively cranking that impassioned dial down in most games I play. It just doesn’t go with the playstyle of people I have played with. But, *but*, here is where it shows up, again, and again:

    I like fanatics, and I don’t mean simple fanatics who want to kill everything, make everyone agree with them. I mean people who have powerful ideas about what is good in the world, what is right in the world, who have worked out philosophic principles that drive them.

    So I can get this big buzz going about how the cosmos works, that feeds into and off of the “I’m gonna kill that bastard.” Although, it’s probably telling that at their most intense, those characters of mine aren’t about killing, their about saving and sacrificing.

    The idea, the concepts, themselves can make me want to cry, to scream, even when they aren’t really ones that *I* could endorse, even when they only make sense in a fantastic and weird world. When those ideas get expressed through and foster my character’s actions, whewee, happy days.

    It’s not “I believe x so I must or ought to do y about z,” but X shining a bright light upon Z, making Y an action that seems entirely natural.

    If I had to put a label, it is a poetic attitude toward intellectual ideas, and that is one of the things I actively seek out in play, rare though it may be to actually get.

    To be smite clearer (perhaps), the ideas serve as anchors for an emotional, passionate hum, a plenum that is both itself emotional and a precondition for other emotional reactions. It doesn’t *feel* like pumping yourself up with thinky reasons, then diving in. It seems more like listening to music, a particular kind of mood-setting.

    (Hmm, I’m having that Adorno moment, where I realize I probably haven’t said this quite right, because I keep wanting to provide just one more slight reformulation…*sigh* I’ll let it stand)

  6. Mo,

    I tried posting this earlier and thought I did, but apparently blogger didn’t like it. I’m going to try again.

    I agree with pretty much everything you’ve got here, but one thing is throwing me off. It’s a fairly minor point so if you want to drop the subject for now in favor of focusing on your main point, just let me know. We can pick this up later.

    Anyway, you said:

    [Impassioned] decisions in the game are made holistically, intuitively, in reaction to the emotional context of the story and its game

    But I think I make cognitive decisions intuitively too. That’s how I play most board games, for instance: I mostly do a brief analysis, make my play, and then after the game go over my plays to see the deeper cognition my brain was doing behind the scenes.

    I guess I’m saying that I don’t see intuition as solely in the realm of the Impassioned play-style. I think there’s a reason that MB typing has Intuition on a scale orthogonal to the T/F dichotemy.

    Of course I could be misreading you and the key clause to the quoted sentence isn’t the one about holistic/intuitive decisions, but the one about decisions based on emotional context. If that’s the case, I think I’m on board with you.


  7. Ian,

    I get that feeling all the time — the thing where you know that you’ve got this platonic thing just sitting there, and all you can express is the mangled image of the shadow on the cave wall.

    So let me take a couple of your points here: The “bandwidth” issue is probably true for some people and not others. I think balancing the two things may be a skill, but if so its a skill I’ve got and that I think most people have some measure of. As you say, you adjust your own dial because it doesn’t fit with a lot of the groups you play with. I’m pretty sure that I mix both in my play, because I love both aspects and need some of both signals to get my payoff.

    As for your fantatics issue, it sounds to me like a mostly-cognative method to get to emotionality. You construct an emotional character and then get the emotion from the idea as it passes through actuality. You’re getting emotional, allright, but you do so by thinking it out first and then reacting to the play of ideas. However, it also sounds like you do sometimes get caught up in game and run off the passion, which means you probably do have some of the other signal in your play. If there were a line right in the middle of the scale Mo shows, I think you’d be as far to the other side of that middle (into the cognitive side) as I am into the impassioned side — that is to say we’re like mirrors of each other.

    Finally, you say: “‘addressed a powerful premise in a way that I constructed with thought and awareness of the statements I was making’ is interesting: because that seems to be an inherently impassioned sort of action.”

    Not in the context I was meaning it, it doesn’t. You may do it passionatly, but you don’t do it impassioned. Now, this isn’t an absolute rule, but one of the things I have noticed in a lot of my anecdotal AP experience is this difference: If you are thinking about your address of presmise before you do it, you are probably moving towards the cognitive side. If you only realize it after you’ve already done it, you’re probably moving towards the impassioned side.

    Which, I think, is one of the areas of Nar that Ron’s had historical problems explaining to people. They will say, “But I don’t want to think about addressing premise and theme before I start playing!” and he’ll respond, “You don’t fucking have to, who ever said you did?” Well no one said you did, exactly, but because of the way people describe it and because of the cognitive mode that a lot of folks play towards premise and theme building with, it certainly sounds like you do.

    So when we’re playing the Marxist game and we’re all actually playing to premise, the way we go about it may be slightly different. Josh will want to move his character into a place to make a story statement about Marxism. (He may be very passionate about what his statement is, and find it deeply meaningful, but his actual play will be cognitive and directed right at that address). You will want to move your character into a place to make a story statement about Marxism while letting yourself feel the character’s bright and vibrant emotions. I will want to feel my characters bright and vibrant emotions as they move towards making a story statement about Marxism. Mo will want to fully epathically be overwhelemed by her character’s emotions, and will only make a statement about premise in so much as after the game we can look back at her actions and say, “Oh, so thats what she said…” Which, btw, may end up with Mo having said something through character she would violently disagree with herself.

    Making sense?

  8. Mo, I just gave you mad props for running the best rpg theory blog on the web, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with you here. I really think you’re onto something with sockets, but I think you’ve begun to move backwards into People Classification, which is a no-no.

    You’ve talked about you and Brand, but when I think back about the games I’ve played in the past week (Exalted Hack, PTA, playtesting a game about slavery narratives), I don’t see Jonathan’s Primary Socket. I see a whole bunch of sockets that I enjoy and how I used a different set for different games based on what everybody else was doing. I found my fun not by insisting “this is what’s fun for me” but by being all Plug And Play.

    I guess I can imagine that some people have very strong feelings about Fun and Not Fun, but, honestly, I’m not sure that I’d want to play with them. Flexibility is an ideal quality for a potential roleplaying partner.

    So I can deal with GNS because it doesn’t classify people or even games. It classifies swaths of play in retrospec or tendencies and preferences. But while I can guess where I fit on the Kinsey Scale, I have no idea where I fit on the Turkington Continuum.

    When I’m in church, for example, I’m way, way left (analytical) except in certain kinds of services that really speak to my right tendencies (outdoor services or ones with a small group of close friends). But in play? It totally depends. If I’m playing with people I know well and we’re grooving, I’m way right. If I’m with strangers, it requires more thought and planning, so I swing more left.

    I guess I don’t feel like these are fixed things. Can I claim a comfort zone instead? Somewhere around 5-8 on a 1 to 10 scale?

  9. Yeah, I’m with Jonathon. (Wow, that feels weird). If you’re onto something here – and you may very well be – I have a feeling it’s just a corner of something huge and complex. Because I can’t spot myself on your continuum at all. I can spot moments, but not instances of play (whole reward cycles). Too much interplay between cognitive and emotional modes.

    One clue: I can see this making sense from a strongly character-socketed perspective. I’m rarely character-socketed, so my relationship with the fiction is a lot more complex than this model seems to permit.

  10. Brand–

    I wrote a lengthy response, but I realize it boils down to a simpler question: what makes having a strong emotional response to ideas not impassioned?

    ‘Cause I have direct, immediate, strong emotional responses to ideas (like, say, Marxism). I’m not thinking through the ideas to get to an emotion, but interacting with ideas emotionally. Why is that more cognitive than impassioned and not just a peculiar brand of impassioned?

  11. Thomas:

    It may make you feel better to know that I deliberately rejected “Intuiitive” as the word for the right hand side of the scale because I recognized it was problematic. It will probably disturb your sleep to know that I used intuitive purposefully, but yes, what you’re engaging with matters.

    Ian: What Brand said.


    While I get that people are all unique snowflakes, I also see that snowflakes contain water, only show themselves when it’s cold and fall from the sky. Identifying these trends does’t make them any less unique, just better understood.

    Trending behaviour for analysis begins with pinning individual behavioral interactions down in a situationalized context and then over time and analysis discovering where they clump.

    I can put Brand and myself on a scale because I’ve got enough examples in the last eight years to make trending meaningful in terms of our preferences and behaviours.

    Note that I said preferences and behaviours, not capabilities. It’s about what people want and what they do not who they are.

    Please go back and re-read, or just hang on and see if things manifest more clearly for you as the posts roll on.

  12. Mark: What I said to Jonathan, plus this:

    -I don’t know if it’s huge and complex, but it is just a corner.

    -If there’s a lot of interplay between the two, maybe you’re in the middle or maybe you’re analyzing your play over different payoffs.

  13. Ian,

    Let me try this way, to see if it helps before I suggest I just call you on the damn phone: in game is what you are interested playing with the idea or is it playing with your emotional response to the idea, or is it some mix of the two?


    As for being character socket based… egh, maybe. I have a strong story socket and I have no problem trending myself across years of play to figure out a sort of baseline interaction that forms a defualt mode for me at this point in my life. And considering the sorts of things I’ve done in and with game and story I’d have to say my relationship to it is pretty complicated too. Its just that even complicated things can be trended into loose categories. It isn’t like you need to be able to point at a decimal place accurate place on the scale and say “THERE” so much as its generally useful to be able to say, “I like to play like this or that” where this and that have a general sense of self-awareness about what it is you actually want in a game. In that way I think Jonathan’s “5 to 8 on a 1 to 10 scale” isn’t far off. It certainly would be a useful contrast to someone whose a 1 to 4 on a 1 to 10 scale, at least.

  14. Mo: I’m fine with hanging out and waiting. I guess it just makes more sense for me to think of it as, maybe, a fixed central point surrounded by a +/- range on both sides. So my 5-8 is sorta like 7 +/- 2, where some people would be less flexible and some people might be more. And, like with Brand’s example, it’d be hard for me to really synch well with someone who’s range was 1-4, because our comfort zones don’t overlap. But I can just map that on top of your model here, I guess, to make it work for me until I figure out where you’re going with it.

  15. Jonathan,

    I don’t think you’re mapping that onto Mo’s model. As I understand it, that is Mo’s model. Because I certainly fluctuate based on situation. That, um 6.5, that my dot is sitting at is just my most comfortable and most common aggragate place to sit.

  16. Brand–

    Here is how I am thinking of it:

    The ideas and the emotions are on a feedback loop for me. I get emotional responses to the ideas, which sets up for some emotional charge in the game, which gets fed back through the ideas and amped up, and so on.

    In terms of what is in game and what is out of game, well, that really does vary (widely) from game to game, although I’m happiest when both are humming in game. Ideally, cycling from emotion to reflection, then back out again in game. That tends to work best when I have done some idea prepping ahead of time.

    Responding emotionally to ideas: check. The ideas are sort of inspirational–to choose a relationship, it’s like looking at the sunrise and then writing a sonata (or something). There is not a desire to ‘represent’ the idea in game so much as to light it on fire.

    Playing with idea: check, but more often out of game. In game, ‘playing with the idea’ is more like reverie, more mantra-like. Although it is pretty cool when the action makes addressing the content of the idea necessary in some way.

    If you want, oakesis, at the gmail dot com, and we can try phone or longer email. Maybe dig into AP a little more.

  17. Ian,

    I don’t think we really need to do a longer email. What you’re saying above is all consistant with what I’m saying, and seems to confirm my guess that you’re a “mirror image” of me. The only thing I’d say you’d need to do is analyze your play over the span of years (either going forward or reflecting backwards) to see if when you put all of those “game to game variences” into a total context if you get some kind of mean or median average.

    Cause my red dot? Not where I play every game. Some games I can change radically. But over the whole course of my gaming history and in the games where I am most comfortable, happiest, and most likely to get my chosen payoff I’ll be somewhere in the area of that red dot.

    Also, for the record, and I hope clarifing our last area of real confusion, the people that I was talking about cognitively and only cognitively addressing premise in a strong way? They differ from you right here: “Playing with idea: check, but more often out of game. In game, ‘playing with the idea’ is more like reverie, more mantra-like. Although it is pretty cool when the action makes addressing the content of the idea necessary in some way.” Where their answer would be something more like “Playing with the idea is the point of game. I may want to deal with the emotional meaning of it, but only after or out of game.”

    So yes, you can flip between the two and use one to feed the other. (I do.) But it is possible to make strong address of premise in a way that isn’t about playing with the emotion (at least not until afterwards) and is only about playing with the idea. In fact I know a lot of folks that do that. My highly impassioned friends almost always end up asking them why they don’t just play chess instead. To which the answer, correctly and inevitably, comes as a variation on “because chess doesn’t get me my payoff.”

  18. I also find this thread from an interesting one when pondering these issues:

    Some people have played RPGs for 20 years with multiple groups in cons and everything and have never seen and cannot imagine that a game would generate any kind of deep emotional response (other than maybe excitement at getting a good dice roll at a critical moment). Not only that, they so don’t understand it that they think it cannot possibly exist, or that if it does it’s unhealthy.

    I’ve heard similar rhetoric from others at other points about everyone else’s play at other points. “I don’t do it so it doesn’t exist” or similar. We saw it a lot about the artist formerly known as immersion, we see it a lot about people who have deep emotional play. However, if you hang out in the right circles you’ll also hear it going the other way. I have, on private mailing lists, had discussions with people who insist that anyone who claims to RP and isn’t deeply emotionally engaged in it is either lying to protect themselves or is just playing a boardgame.

    Which makes it ironic that I think a lot of the problems we’re having here is that many of us have a spread that has at least one edge somewhere close to the middle. (Maybe not Mo, but I think she manages to overcome the gap based on the fact that she’s such a cognitive person in everything outside game that she can bridge the modes.) Because of that we’re getting a lot of worry about “where exactly in the middle am I? how middle am I? if you and I are in the middle does it exist at all?”

    Middle is middle, and how much it matters would require more talk between two people planning to actually play together. For the moment, however, I think it can help to look at the ends and think about what happens when Zoomba “I have never seen anyone have an emotional reaction to an RPG in 20 years and would find it unhealthy if I did” of tries to play with Goldeneyes “I play to dredge out and experience my innermost pain, in 20 years of RP I’ve never had a session where I didn’t cry, and I think anyone that can’t get to that point is emotionally broken” of my old Changeling list.

  19. Mo, have you ever played Prime Time Adventures? What was it like for you?

    Reason I ask: PTA seems to me to require play pretty far toward the Cognitive end of your scale.

  20. Jim:

    Not yet. We’ve had it on the list for a while, but haven’t been able to muster a group. Brand’s played, I believe, but not me.


  21. Jim,

    PTA does need a certain amount of cognitive play. It can have impassioned moments, between framing and resolution and cut, but the strict structure does – in my experience – impose a degree of constraing on how far down the impassioned scale you can slide without getting friction.

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