Category Archives: examining play

Stance Crap and Authorial Intent.

I’m going to say something very unpopular. Ready?

Actor stance and Author Stance are different names for what are two streams of the same authorial act and only really exist to explain and define each other. They are NOT different things.

OK. Disclaimer time. I am talking the only way that anybody can with any degree of certainty: out the framework of my own experience. While my experience is varied and diverse, it is decidedly west of the pond. I know that there are freeform LARPers and experimental gamers that will fight me tooth and nail on this – and perhaps rightly so. I’m willing to admit that I don’t know what that is like and so can not really test the idea. I let y’all fight it out among yourselves.

With that in mind, I think this is the way, and the only way that Actor stance exists: In an old 7th Sea campaign. I had a character Livia who had fallen in love with two different men. She was extremely conflicted about it, and when it came down to having to make a decision, had a terrible time choosing between them. All the while, I as a player, knew that she was going to end up with Fortuno, because damn it, he’s one mofo sexy rogue, and me? I’m a complete sucker for a mofo sexy rogue. The latter is, of course my author stance and the former my actor stance.

That statement up there about Livia feeling conflicted is something that I have made up, because the character is fictional. I’ve come to the statement through a very different process than the statement about the mofo sexy rogue, but it’s still something that I have constructed, made decisions about and chosen. Giving it the name Actor Stance only helps delineate it as a parallel thought process that is occurring in my head beside the one about the sexy mofo rogue. The terms “Actor Stance” and “Author Stance” is a tool that helps me clarify to the listener that I feel or think two divisive things about one situation.

Now, say in the same situation, I did not think or feel two divisive things. Say, Livia, my character was just as clear about choosing of Fortuno at the time as I, Mo, was about what she should do. Then the terms “Actor Stance” and Author Stance” is used, again, as a tool to illustrate something: of course being that there is no disparity between the thought processes

The problem arises when we talk about Actor Stance and Author Stance as if they are not related, or as not products of one single source (my brain). Actor Stance does not exist separately from me, it is a product of me, just like Author Stance is. If I talk about what Livia thinks as if it is divorced from my self, then I am creating a fallacy. I created the character, I have made choices about the way she has pushed and pulled on the world and about how these events have changed her. I own her, and her process is a part of me.

Still with me, even if you do or don’t like it? Good… I’m going somewhere.

There’s an old argument that’s been going on between Nar GM’s and Players that have come to Nar games (particularly Immersionists), that says that the Players don’t Author, and that is destructive to the story. The converse is often thrown back that Nar games destroy the immersion process (or socket character enjoyment ) by either demanding authorship and bring the immersionist out of the immersive seat or meddling with the “integrity” of the character. Neither of these statements is necessarily true.

Here’s the situation:

It’s a super heroes game. The Player has expressed a strong, Author Stance desire to meet Superman, but has never expressed such a desire in Actor Stance. The GM is putting the opportunity on the table.

GM: OK, So you hear that Superman is in Metropolis.
Player: OK.
GM: Are you going to go?
Player: No.
GM: But you want to see him meet Superman, right?
Player: Yeah, but John has no reason to go to Metropolis.
GM: Come on, just make him go. You never author your character!!

Everybody’s frustrated.

Here’s what’s happening. There are three Author Stance statements that the Player is saying. Only one is articulated in a way the GM is understanding.

1.) I think it would be cool for the character to meet Superman, (for whatever reason) and I would like that to happen. The GM has obviously heard this quite clearly.
2.) It is important to me for the character to feel “organic”, or play naturally. This may have been an articulated statement at one time, but it’s not clear to the GM at the moment, or is not valued by the GM at all.
3.) Because of 2, I need you to give me reason in game to go and fulfill my desire.

There are also a few things the player is misunderstanding:

1.) “Authoring your character” in this case has relatively little to do with authoring or with author stance. The player has authored, and employed author stance by declaring a desire to meet Superman. What the GM is actually saying is: “It’s not my job to change your Actor Stance to meet your Author Stance. This is a Narrativist Game. Employ your Director Stance to insert a reason to go to Metropolis.
2.) In many games, the “organic” declaration is stated frequently by the Player, but is not heard by the GM as an Authoring Statement. Instead it’s heard best as a statement of enjoyment of the game, at worst, an episode of MyGuyism. All too frequently it’s just ignored, which makes the player feel like the statement has been made and accepted, and therefore should be respected.

How do you fix it? Social Contract of course. If there is a strong, crystal clear directive at the beginning of the game, everyone has expectations down: “There may be times for you in the game to change the way your character thinks or feels or acts for the good of the story. If that situation arises you are responsible to change those things in a direction more friendly to the game, and to find your own means of accomplishing this, either by simply changing your character’s mind or by employing your Director Stance in a way that is acceptable to the GM.” Players with any experience in trad games at all have been enculturated to:

1.) Express all desires in Actor Stance,
2.) Abandon any hope of control over the setting,
3.) Just enjoy the ride via the character and
4.) STFU Newb, I’m the GM.

Therefore, if the social contract does not expressly re-negotiate it, this will end up as the unexamined default, and everything will run amok..

Up next: Push vs. Pull

Agenda Affirmation

I saw this over on Deep in the Game and thought it was a really useful exercise, so I yoinked it. Thanks Chris!

Social

  • I like it when people approach the game with a commitment to social responsibility.
  • I like it when players make firm emotional commitments to game and allow themselves to move and be moved by the game, by the story, by their characters and/or by each other.
  • I like it when everybody around the table is adult enough, sensitive enough and friendly enough to be able to have games where strong, brutal situations can happen and we can be affect by but not destroyed by the impacts.
  • I like to make falliable characters who can sometimes make bad choices without the other players assuming that I am stupid because I am not making the “correct” strategic choice.
  • I like to make strong opinionated moves in character that say much about my character without the people around the table assuming that the choices my character is making are the choices that I personally believe are right. (Eg. I might have a Dog that believes in capital punishment for capital crimes, and I don’t want the players to assume Mo feels the same way. I know that I am making a statement about religion and capital punishment, but it doesn’t mean that it would be my real life choice because I am not in the situation nor of the religion.)
  • I like to play with folks who I genuinely like out of game too.
  • I like playing with folks who have a similar sense of cultural reference.

Creative

  • I like to have the freedom and support to go *way* outside of the box.
  • I must be able to immerse to fully enjoy any long term game.
  • I must be able to make characters that are dynamic and able to change with the support of the system.
  • I like to explore the psychology of characters.
  • I like powerful conflicted characters that clash head to head with other powerful conflicted characters often with elements of romance, sexuality, politics or strong, unique visions of the world.

Technical

Overall, I’d say I’m pretty Vanilla:

  • I like games that let me learn as we go rather than having to “take a course” up front.
  • I don’t like games that have a lot of modifiers, reference charts or lots of pre-determined or group determined difficulties and conditions.
  • I don’t like to have to fiddle with a lot of crunchy math.
  • I like it when games nest task resolution inside conflict resolution (i.e. Dogs) rather than being all one or all the other.
  • I like being able to throw rules out the window when they impede the dramatic quality of the game.
  • I like optional mechanics that allow me and others in the game to be able to tailor to the style and comfort of individuals at the table. (1000 Stories aims to do this)
  • I am stressed by systems that require me to perform a lot of resource management (e.g. Nobilis, extended contests in Heroquest).
  • I like games that reward players for being socially responsible and supportive to each other.
  • I don’t like hidden target numbers. I especially hate it where death is involved. I like knowing death is on the line and choosing to go there if I want to.
  • I don’t like (what Bankuei refers to as) “bunk choices” (things that look like choices but aren’t really choices at all).
  • I like multiple paths to success.
  • I don’t like mechanics that interfere with the process of play, because they interfere with my ability to immerse.
  • I like my rewards as instant reinforcement (Fan mail in PtA, Hero Points in Truth & Justice, Drama points in Buffy or 7th Sea, Bonus Dice in BtI)

Ephemeral

  • I have real problems with mind control or possession plots that usurp my sense of protagonism. (I.e. Polaris might be OK because I still play my character when she is posessed, but “You are now a Nazi” is not fun for me).
  • I don’t want my personal plot to be in competition with the group’s goal (I often don’t like big group goals anymore). I would like my personal plot to affect the game, but not in a way that undesirably puts me at odds with another player(s) , unless it happens by agreement between the players.
  • I like having rich and colourful settings that serve as backdrops to the story.
  • I do not want to have to keep track of time, logistics, and other Simmy details, especially where they conflict with our ability to concentrate on the story or on character interaction.
  • Although I like strong, dynamic stories, I do not like to push, push, push endlessly towards conclusion. I need to have interludes of reflection and interaction to keep sane and to make a more “literary” sense of pace.
  • I am not so interested in one shots, as they don’t allow me to immerse and so don’t let me plug in and get what I like of game.
  • I HATE when games just die without resolving. I like campaigns long, or mid length, but with good, satisfying conclusions.
  • I really like solo games.
  • I like kewl powers and colourful abilities when they serve to enhance the human drama, and generally lose interest in them when the focus is on them in and of themselves.
  • I can be entirely happy playing real human non-metanormal characters so long as they are set up in a suitably dramatic fashion.
  • I like either a certain degree of fantasy wish fulfillment or strong feelings of dramatic catharsis, and when they come together it rocks my socks.
  • I am fetishistic about character sheets and handouts. I love good art that helps to illustrate characters and places in very visual, beautiful ways. I keep all my character sheets in a binder (a.k.a. “the menagerie”) which has come to look like a gallery of my gaming exploits over the years. I love to draw my characters and the other PC’s or NPC’s in the game. Note: its not that I fetishize the numbers on the sheet. Instead, graphic design, visual image and layout on the sheets is almost like a ritual for me that allows me to express the character on multiple levels. Dogs would still be Dogs in Times New Roman on a stapled pack of 8.5 x 11 white bond, but there’s something between the funky Dog’s coat picture on the front, through the dimestore novel, bibletext-font finished final product that makes it come much more alive to me. Same goes with my character sheets. (If you are interested, look at Amalkau, Ravi, Deja Vu, Eva, Morgan, Katya, or Liz. )

Feel free to comment on mine, or share your own.

Intro to Immersion 101

I’ve been promising an essay on immersion to a bunch of people for a while now, so as much as I hesitate to use any word so formal as “essay”, I guess this is where it starts.

Hrm, OK. Lets start here:

It can be said that:

  • Narrativism requires active rather than passive participation in the process of the game.
  • Narrativism requires enhanced emotional commitment to the story in order to make it powerful.
  • Narrativism requires strong, dynamic, pulsing characters that make strong, dynamic, pulsing choices to make the story out of.

And I find:

  • Immersive players, by nature of their immersion have clearer ideas and often fuller articulation about the wants and needs of their characters, which can lead (with support) to fuller, more dynamic kickers, and choices.
  • They have techniques, which enable them to make strong emotional investments into the game (via their characters).

And yet, much of the theory around Narrativism seems to suggest that immersion is antithetical to Narrativist play. To this I’d like to say: WTF?

I concede that immersive players who create full, cohesive, complete backgrounds in which their stories are already told and there are no choices to be made, or who’s rich internal dialogue never comes out of their heads and into the story do not make good additions to a Nar game. However, I’d go further to posit these behaviors don’t make good additions to any game at all because they are dysfunctional behaviors and are not complementary to any mode of play. Essentially they’re just the immersionist version of turtling.

Does that mean all immersionists will exhibit these behaviors? By no means. Many immersionists will employ the techniques used in Narrativist games to enhance both their immersive play and the story. They will do so consciously, and functionally, and the game will be better for it.

The problem is, that immersion’s a difficult thing to pin down. It’s hard to talk about because it’s an instinctual and emotional process – that by which we find the place that we can most satisfactorily “plug in” emotionally to the game. I don’t think that those who use characters as their emotional “socket” are the only kind of immersionists, but I’ll talk more about that later. For the rest of this entry, I’ll stick with these folks alone. I’ll also show my biases up front: I consider myself a character immersionist, and I believe that we are frequently given a bad rap.

There seems to be this perception out there that all immersionists talk about their relationship to character as if it’s a magical or mystical process that cannot be explained, and that this leads many of the theorists to get exasperated and decide that immersionists simply are obfuscating because object to the analysis of their play. I disagree with this, and I find it rather dismissive.

There’s a reason why so many immersionists express their immersion experiences in mystical terms: the immersion process is in a secular sense, extremely mystical in that the process is enigmatic, obscure, and it often inspires a sense of wonder in the person who experiences it.

I think that this mode of expression means less that “I object to you analyzing my play” and more a statement of one or more of the following:

  1. I don’t necessarily fully understand the process myself
  2. I have major trouble expressing it analytically because it crosses over from the left brain to the right brain, and I have trouble finding language for it.
  3. It feels less authentic and emotionally satisfying to me when I try and force it language around it.
  4. I’m sensitive about because I’m emotionally connected to it and while I don’t object to subjecting it to the process of analysis, I feel like people are frequently dismissive or belittling about the process and I fear that people will dismiss or belittle me for engaging in it.
  5. It’s an emotional process and I’ve been socialized against discussing emotional things.
  6. I’m doing it for dysfunctional reasons and I don’t want to admit to myself that I’m being dysfunctional
  7. I’ve learned to do it not out of choice, because of dysfunctional stimuli and I don’t feel safe talking about it, or I’m dysfunctional about how I do it because of dysfunctional stimuli and I don’t feel safe talking about it.

So, how do we get around that? I don’t know… yet. I do know that I am a character immersionist, I don’t object to analysis of my play, and while I do have a dose of A, a hefty chunk of B and a little bit of D going on, I recognize that games are being created by both myself and others, and if I want those games to support my style of play. In order for that to happen, we need to find a way to get at what it means. So, this post and the posts to follow will be me talking about the bits I’ve figured out or am trying to figure out.

Some of the stuff that I’ll be talking about in later posts:

  • Description of what immersion means for me as a player, how I came to it, why I like it, and some techniques I use while doing it.
  • Different substyles of immersion
  • Immersion and GNS modes
  • Other immersion “sockets”
  • Mechanics that support immersionist play and mechanics that detract from it (specific to Nar games and actual play examples, possibly more)
  • Probably a whole lot of other blather.