Immersion Goals Borrowed from Literary Theory

Borrowed from the literary tradition, I’d like to put forward some new words for your perusal that might help explore the differences of goals that exist under the catch-all word immersion. There may be others that would help too, but I think these three are important.

Catharis: Yes, I know you know this word, but do you know what means in the context of literary theory? Catharsis (which was introduced by Aristotle in The Poetics and means either “purgation” or “purification” in Greek) is the emotional effect a tragic drama has on its audience. The audience of a tragic drama would experience an overwhelming feeling of exaltation or relief following the drama because either they formed a vicarious identification with the hero which cleansed the emotions as if they have themselves had undergone the trauma of the story, or because the audience becomes so engrossed in the emotions for the hero that they are removed from the context of their own lives and return refreshed and renewed back to themselves following the drama.

Kairosis: is associated with the epic novel (association with the Greek meaning “the right time”, and represents the feeling of integration experienced by the audience with the protagonist. It is associated specifically with the moments of moral and psychologicical transitioning of the character in important, dramatically impacting moments. It is interesting to note that Kairosis is often achieved by challenging unique dynamic characters with typical, everyman dilemmas and emotionally engaging in the moments of change.

Kenosis: is associated with lyric poetry, and represents the audience’s abandonment of the ego manifestation in favour of the immediate emotional body and sensory manipulation of the poetic. It comes from the Greek word for “emptiness” and is used to achieve a feeling of timelessness or transcendence.

(If you don’t care about the words in their application in literary theory, you can skip this indented part.

***ETA: There’s more discussion after the indented part. Pick up the post again in the paragraph starting with: “So, what the heck am I talking about?”**

When I look at these terms, I make some adjustments on them to compensate for the differences in the method and process of the act of roleplaying:

Where we in a widely literate, educated and media saturated environment have specified, culturally driven, inherited understandings of drama, and in a world where the lines between the novel the drama and lyric poetry have been distorted, deconstructed and blurred, it seems to me that goals may not cleanly align by the form but can still maintain similar extant resonance to the emotional outreach of the audience.

Where we, as roleplayers, serve as both the authors and audiences of our own characters, inside a dynamic, living drama rather than a static text, we can elect to chase the fulfillment of multiple goals at once.)

So, what the heck am I talking about? Well, I know for a long time I have been describing my particular brand of character immersion as an intense, cathartic connection with the character in which I feel the character’s emotional state acutely, understand the mental process of the character acutely and objectively (rather than the character understands it: subjectively) and feel a vicarious emotional response of my own towards the character.

When I look at this in relation to the terms, I know Catharsis to be my primary goal: It is the place that the intense connection to the character is formed, in which I feel, simultaneously, the character’s emotional state, my own emotional state, my character’s inner workings, my own inner workings and my empathy for the character. Catharsis will make me physically weep when my character’s lover dies in her arms even if she does not shed a tear, because while I feel her emotional state as acutely as she does, I am feeling it vicariously. I am immersed in who she is, but I am not her. The feeling of exaltation or relief is something I can validate. An intense, cathartic immersion experience can leave me feeling a little high in an emotionally-induced endorphin way. This goal, IMHO, is all about feeling (For you following the MBTI stuff, it is an immersive F gamer’s playground).

I also know, although it is not part of my description above, that Kairosis is a frequent goal for me. It here that I go to for the moments of resounding transition; the moments that feel as if the soundtrack on the drama has picked up and the character’s life and the story will never again be the same. The “right moment” of Kairosis is the one where the character and the story interact and change each other, powerfully and irreversibly. This one is both about thinking and about feeling. In order to do this reliably and intentionally it requires a thinking setup, but transitions to feeling mode in the actualization of the moment’s resonance. I suppose it is possible to be setup and actualized both in T mode, but I’m not sure if it would lead to the immersive integration that the goal is looking for. This kind of immersion could serve story socket players as or even more effectively than character socket players. It is also, I believe functionally incompatible with Kenosis.

Kenosis is not a goal of mine, but one that is associated with the term immersion quite frequently in discussion, especially in association with larpers over the pond. Also called “Deep IC” or “altered state flow” or that I have been calling “submersion”, the goal here is to feel completely like the character and to feel as little like yourself as possible. The feeling of timelessness or transcendence is something that a lot of these folks talk about, even sometimes going so far as to compare it to a religious experience. Again, this is also about Feeling, I think (MBTI note: and I would think that it is commonly a goal of “SF” immersive gamer types, who would require strong myth to make a full transition from self to character). Note: This kind of immersion goal would also work as well for a setting socket player as a character socket player: the goal would be to get out of the player’s world and into the world of the player’s character.

I also think it’s interesting to note that when looked at this way, it’s unsurprising that there is so much debate about the compatibility of the goals of nar games and the goals of immersion. A goal like Kairosis requires intentional dramatic framing and intention to achieve the synthesis of character transitioning in the right moment and as such would be perfectly compatible, whereas a goal like Kenosis may repel such deliberate constraint, or force the player back into his own head, making the styles incompatible.

Also, it gives some good groundwork for why immersive players are at odds as to what kinds of game processes or mechanics are counterintuitive to their immersion activity. A Kairotic Immersives might not have trouble discussing stakes or out of game strategy to optimize the “right moment”, Cathartic Immersives might have no trouble authoring to intensify drama but could have real trouble any time the game required transition from a Feeling to Thinking mode, such as crunchy calculation or resource management. Kenotic Immersives might find any out of game negotiation that draws them out of character unappealing.

Getting around to (one of) the point(s).

So, 10 or so months ago I started Sin Aesthetics.

I did this post on immersionand this post on authorial intent and this post on push and pull.

None of them were supposed to be very groundbreaking, they were just setup posts to get everybody onto the page of a few things I wanted to talk about. The next one was supposed to combine some of these elements to having a discussion about how one could use pull techniques to help immersion-heavy players cope functionally and productively in push-heavy nar games. This seems like it’s kind of anti-climactic now after all the discussion that’s gone on about p/p. At least the post can be much shorter now, because we won’t have to sort through examples.

Basically, the point is that if the goal of nar games is to create drama by addressing premise, and if differential techniques (p/p) can equally be used to do this in a valid way then those techniques can be (and are) used intentionally to create a personal fit to a shared game, even if the game fosters a playstyle that is less friendly to the player using the technique. I’m an immersive player and find that many nar games with explicit push systems (read: mechanically supported) often interrupt my ability to immerse because the system requires me to toggle between IC-head and OOC-head too long or too frequently, or because they break (personal) character continuity over issues of ownership (e.g. winning narration rights).

The design intent over many of these explicit structures exist to create what matters. What matters might be drama through conflict, or to highlight the address of premise, or to reward giving over to the story. It might be simply to pre-negotiate the social system of the game so that there is less work or negotiation required to produce functional and enjoyable play. In any case, they are designed to produce.

In some cases, where the explicit structures prevent or deter a player from fully socketing to their locus of enjoyment in a game (so for me, to character, emotionally) the player can premptively produce what the explicit structure has been built to require in order to eliminate or minimize the negative impact of interacting with that structure, while still remaining functional and socially responsible to the game and the play group.

For example, say one explicit structure in the game is: once you have played to a point where crisis is coming, the players roll dice and the winner is given sole authority to narrate the outcome of the crisis. The point of this structure is to provide a means of resolving conflict and a clear direction of social authority. A player that sockets emotionally via character might find this structure impedes or prevents personal enjoyment in the game because when they lose conflicts the winning player is free to narrate what the loser’s character can do, and this creates static in the player’s personal sense of continuity with the character, knocking the plug out of the socket.

(Some of you might want to tell me that if this is the case, the player shouldn’t play this game. Sure, optimally we’d all be playing games with groups and in systems that fit us perfectly 100% of the time, but the reality is that we don’t. Sometimes we play games that fit other people’s preferences more than our own, because playing with the person is more important to us than the system we play in. Sometimes, everything else in the system makes it worth running into the occasional hump.)

So in this case, what can the player do to premptively produce what the system is looking for so as to lessen the impact of or eliminate the hump? Well, since it’s fresh, Brand’s moment of crisis post offers us one way. Since the structure is very FatE, a skilled player could pull to resolve the conflict and determine authority using social DitM. In order to succeed in the pull, the player must win the buy in of the other player, and in giving buy in (especially in a context in which going to the FatE is his mechanical right in the game) the other player is exhibiting an acceptance to what the pulling player has done (any of this could be an OOC explicit negotiation or an IC negotiation). Both players are happy, the premise has been addressed to the satisfaction of both players, and the drama rolls on. The transaction is functional and productive, and the pulling player has not had to experience the static produced by the FatE structure.

This kind of thing isn’t always going to be possible, of course, and could take considerable skill and finesse to make work, but it’s something worth thinking about.

It’s also an interesting consideration to take when designing. As the designer, if you want people to be able to use their personal skills to compensate for areas of your system they might have problems with, does your explicit system make room for them to do so? If you do not want this, how do you constrain this ability in your design? Is there other things we can do to expand the support for multiple playtypes, or multiple sockets or whatever? Do we even want to?

Anyway, it’s something I’m still musing on, so I thought I’d put it out there.

Guess Who’s Back, Back Again?

This is an archived copy of Brand’s Yuhishthira’s Dice post from Sunday, May 21, 2006.

Brand is back, tell a friend.

Ottawa was lovely. Now I’m back, and this is the post in which I’m going to be dealing with a lot of the issues that you noisy monkeys have brought up in the 4 days that I was out of town. You’d think I’d been gone a month, not a piddly little half-week, with the volume of discourse you’ve all been generating. Oy.

So here are my thoughts and responses. It’s long and long, but please actually read the whole damn thing before you start to respond, or else I’m going to get cranky really fast.

Also note that I’m going to be moding conversation on this thread for at least a few days, and limiting comments to specific folks. I don’t want to talk about this as fast as fast can be, I want everyone to actually take some time to think and formulate and feel confident and safe about what they’re saying. The break-neck speed that we use in our discourse on the net is a lovely thing for getting energy up and building networks, but it is lousy, lousy, lousy, for people actually getting to understand what others are saying.

So, here we go:

Push and Pull vs. DitM and DatE

My current thoughts on this one are that Vincent’s takes on DitM and DatE are all good ones, and do relate directly to push and pull and the moment of crisis in a very real way. They are also, for the moment, the parts of push and pull that I want to look at.

However, I don’t think that DitM/DatE is all of push and pull. If you look at the history of the discussion of P/P you’ll see that there are a lot of different levels being looked at. Jess Pease in here 20×20 Room article was looking at them as two possible modes of interaction (out of possibly many) in the greater social sphere. Mo and Chris in their Deep in the Game discussion looked at them as techniques to be used in game in order to move the game in a direction. This is a much narrower definition than Jess’s – but it doesn’t negate Jess’s, it just focuses it down another level. Similarly my moment of crisis was another step down from Mo’s definitions from the Deep in the Game thread. Now Vincent’s ideas about DitM/DatE are the newest narrowing and tightening of scope.

To be specific, at this moment with DitM/DatE we seem to be mostly concerned with technical issues and how those effect game play. P/P did this too, though probably less directly stated, but P/P was also concerned with emotional and social issues and how those effect game play. DitM/DatE hasn’t gotten to talking about that yet. Not that it won’t, in time, but it isn’t yet because we’re just getting started and are looking at the process of how things work. In time we may get to talking about how those processes contribute to the social and emotional resonance of game, but we’re not there yet.

So if you’re looking at DitM/DatE and P/P and saying, “I can see how they’re related but they don’t feel the same” there is a good reason for that – DitM/DatE is just starting to explore on area and figure out how to use it mechanically and technically. That gives talk about it a very different tenor than talk about the whole of P/P and the emotional investment/social construction angle. So if your intuitive objections come down to “well, maybe, but I don’t think it feels the same” then you could well be right. It doesn’t feel the same because it isn’t 100% the same discussion, its an exploration of a new direction that came out of the old discussion.

So it is very likely that there will be much more to talk about with regards to P/P than the DitM/DatE discussion. However, for now I want to table that so that we can focus on the DitM/DatE line of enquiry and work it out and figure out how to use it in play and design to maximum potential. Once we’ve gotten somewhere with that, then we can come back and look at other issues under the bigger umbrella as seems useful or fun. I will talk about why this is causing some disconnect later in this essay, but I don’t want that to be the point – I’m just going to offer it up in way of explanation under the Digression header below. That’s just to see if I can’t help people get on the same page, and not because I want to get back into the whole issue of what P/P are and every nuance of their being.

Seriously, I mean it. Especially because a lot of people seem to get it intuitively, and just have trouble talking about it. I’m really hoping that when they start seeing some technical system issues that gradually build into social and emotional agenda issues they’ll be able to start putting names to their intuition. (Though even if they can’t, I’m not too worried. I’ve talked with several people already who, though they have a hard time isolating if “this specific little nit here” is push or pull or ItM/AtE already know the basic ways of using it in game, and that’s fully cool. It’s only really the hard-core designers who need to know huge amounts more than that.)

Also, I’d like to note that I’ve been talking about what Push and Pull are for six months now, and like Mo I’m healthily tired of the endless talk about “if this particular close to the line example is push or if it’s pull and what are push and pull anyway.” I want to move on now and start looking at things they do in game and how to use them, and DitM/DatE is something that does just that. Maybe as this develops the new angles we figure out and the new games that come out of it will help people twig to the rest in time. (Like how I didn’t really get Nar until I played Dust Devils and went “OMG!”) Maybe it will lead to something completely new. Either way its something cool that came out of the conversation, and I’d like to be able to talk about it rather than the same things for another 6 months.

So, on with DitM/DatE and the issue of resolution.

Resolution, you tricky bastard

We all know what resolution means, right? Well good, because I don’t. Or that is, I thought I did until Vincent and Ben exploded my head. Now, in terms of this whole issue and things Ben and Vincent have been talking about, I’ve been forced to reconsider some things.

To explain why, lets look at some issues, shall we? Won’t that be fun?

The Stakes Example

In stakes resolution you resolve a conflict by setting up stakes and then using a method of resolution (usually framed as fortune – the dice) to decide what happens from those stakes. So you make stakes about an issue, you consult the oracle, and you get a resolution.

Example: If Jon makes this roll then Mo will write commentary for his new magazine. If Jon fails the roll then Mo will never speak to him again.

Seems simple enough, right? We’ve got stakes, and now we’re heading towards resolution.

But, um, from where did we get those stakes? Did they magically appear out of the air? Did Jon say them, in exactly that manner? Did Mo? Did Jon say what he gets if he wins and Mo say what she gets if Jon loses? Did I, the GM in this little drama, get to modify either or both of their statements? Did the other people in the group? Did Jon start off by saying, “If I win you’ll co-write When the Forms Exhaust the Variety with me” and then get negotiated down to the commentary angle? Did Mo start off by saying “If I win, I’ll kill you, you bastard” and then get negotiated down to just not speaking to him again if she wins?

Here’s the thing: by the time we get to resolving the stakes, we’ve already had to resolve something – the stakes themselves. We’ve had to, as a group, come up with what we want the stakes we’re going to resolve to be. Some games may give one person the authority to just say the stakes and have them stick. In some games the whole group may have to agree that the stakes are good, and even non-participating parties can mess with them. The way we, as a group, get down to actually making the final stakes for the stakes resolution is, in itself, a resolution.

Judd has often come onto stakes and conflict resolution threads and given good advice. One of the best pieces is to make stakes that lead to goodness if they are won or if they are lost. In this view the group should set it up so that if Mo comments or if Mo never speaks to Jon again it will drive the story forward. Is it just me, or does it sounds like using group Drama resolution at the social level to set the stakes? If that’s true, by the time we’re whipping out the fortune to say if Mo is going to speak to Jonathan again or not, we’ve already used Drama resolution to set up stakes that we find interesting.

If I, as GM, had the ability to set those stakes myself and no one else could say anything once they were set, is that DatE of the issue of setting stakes? If I could suggest stakes (or others could) but the final stakes didn’t get set until we all agreed what was most dramatic and fitting, is that DitM of setting stakes? By the time we get to resolving what’s going on in the fiction, haven’t we already had to have some resolution at a meta-level?

The IIEE Example

Okay, the thing is not all games use stakes resolution, especially not in the way I was talking about above. (Polaris doesn’t even come close, for an easy example.) But what about IIEE? Oh that lovely IIEE. It will make our lives in this discussion even more fun and interesting.

Vincent recently talked about IIEE and how it relates to ItM/AtE, and said, “IIEE is about what happens in the fiction, ItM/AtE is what the players actually do at the table.” That is true, and I do not dispute that. What I will say is that the matrix of how they work together can be a lot more complicated than one ItM/AtE exchange determining the whole IIEE.

We all know that a game can have separate steps for resolving different parts of IIEE. The classic example is rolling to hit and rolling to damage in D&D.; You roll to hit to see if you can execute the “I hit him” action, and roll to damage to see how much effect it has. You can succeed or fail at either step along the way. That’s a nice easy example.

The thing is, once you get into it, the examples don’t stay easy for long. That’s because at each stage of IIEE you can have a different resolution for that stage, depending on the system of your game. So, you could do something like this (using one, multiple, or all of these for check points for blocking/rollback/authority):

Intent: You get to say what your intent is, once you’ve said it no one else has anything to say. That’s Push/At the End.

Initiation: You have to negotiate with someone else to actually start the action, even when you’ve said you’re starting, other people can still modify it or cancel it by choosing not to buy-in. That’s Pull/In the Middle.

Execution: Once you’ve started it, you may then have the ability to say how it goes until it hits the moment of effect. Your narration is thus Push/At the End.

Effect: You could then have to stop and negotiate with others to see, now that the action is done, what the effects of its completion are. That’s back to Pull/In the Middle.

To make it worse, you may be able to use different types of resolution as well. You could use (probably normally do, in fact) Drama to determine the intent, karma to determine the initiation, fortune to determine the execution, and drama again to determine the effect. Like this:

Intent: You roll against a chart to see what the NPC’s intent is (fortune)

Initiation: You have them go about that intent in a way that seems the most likely to cause conflict (drama)

Execution: You play cards against the PCs to see if the NPC can do what they want (fortune)

Effect: Having succeeded or failed at your execution, you now narrate what happens based on how well you think the others responded to your challenge (karma)

At this point we’re starting to make a matrix, a big list of choices for things that can be combined and recombined to make that process of working through IIEE work very differently in different systems. Who has authority at which level of IIEE to say what? Is their say the end of it, or only the start of the negotiation? When do they use dice? When do they use drama? At what point is it even an issue? You can make a game, I’m sure, that always goes right to effect. (I don’t know if it would be a fun game, but I didn’t claim that either.) At that point things get simpler, but not necessarily for the best.

In Nine Worlds, for example, you use drama to set up your stakes and intents and then (depending on how you have framed it) use fortune to determine who has narration rights, and then that person gets to use DatE to determine initiation, execution, and effect. (Though I’ve noticed that most NW’s APs I’ve seen never have the narrator stop the initiation of the other person’s effort – they just stop them before they get their desired effect. It’s an interesting social gambit, don’t you think?)

OTOH, in Sorcerer you frame up your intent dramatically, roll the dice and start playing to see if you ever get to execute (Ron’s talk about how in Sorcerer you may not get to have an action every round goes here – we assume that we should get an attempt to execute every pass, but that isn’t how all games work), and after the dice are done use part mechanics (damage, currency, etc) and part narration to decide what the dice actually mean in terms of effect.

Then, combine that with the stakes issue from up above, and you start getting a “resolution tree” rather than a simple resolution. Every time we go about resolving something in game, we’re really resolving a whole host of tightly interconnected issues.

(Also, it’s probably worth noting the ways in which Intent and Stakes framing work together, but that’s a different issue.)

So, um, when are things actually resolved?

So, if you have a resolution for stakes, or a resolution for II that then leads into another resolution for E and then another for the E after it, and one of them is something in the middle and two of them are something at the end, when the hell does something actually happen?

Well, lets look at Polaris. With Polaris you can get into a scene without specific preset stakes (in fact, you usually will), have people go back and forth in multiple turns of adding, modifying, negating, and doing things in the middle. Some things will get resolved as you go – a big stack of “but only ifs” for example, may all come to pass in the fiction when someone else pulls an “and furthermore.” But even then the resolution of the whole conflict isn’t over until you hit an end phrase. When that end phrase comes up, you get your final resolution. Be this fortune at the end (“It Shall Not Come To Pass”) or Drama at the end (“And that Was How It Happened’) you know you’ve hit the end and the whole unit of conflict is resolved because you’ve gotten your end phrase.

I think there are probably invisible end phrases at the end of a lot of resolution trees. Much as it can be confusing to think about the multiple levels of resolution that may go into deciding a conflict, we all know when we get to the end – it’s when the thing at hand is finally decided. Once the conflict has been staged, with all the resolutions needed to stage it, and then acted out, with all those resolutions, and then finalized, with all those resolutions – you’re done. Now lather, rinse, repeat.

Okay, so how can pushing me off a roof be pull?

One of the issues I’ve seen brought up over and over is how can something like “I push you off the roof” be pull? Isn’t it something that demands a response?

The answer is, and I want you all to say this out loud, IT DEPENDS ON THE SOCIAL SITUATION AT THE TABLE WHEN THE STATEMENT IS MADE.

Okay, maybe I need to calm down and stop shouting. Let me back up here and address something that a lot of people have been having issues with, and see if I can clarify it in a very brief way. In communication theory one of the very basic models of how communication works is that you say something, the other person hears something, and the aggregate of those things is the communication. So if you say something meaning “Come to dinner on Friday” and I hear “come to dinner on Friday” then the communication was “come to dinner on Friday.” But if you say something meaning “Come to dinner on Friday” and I hear “Come to lunch tomorrow” then the communication is a mess of signals that involves you and me having an indeterminate meal at an indeterminate time. It’s the thing in between the intent of the speaker and the perception of the listener that is where communication happens (or doesn’t happen).

Push and pull work much the same way, they take up the middle space between what you intend to do and what the other person thinks you are doing. You can intend to push, and if I know that you’re pushing then the push can go through. You can intend to pull, and if I know you’re pulling, then the pull can go through. But if you go to push, I think it’s a pull, and start treating it like something to be negotiated over, we’ve gone into muddle land. Most of the time this probably gets resolved by whoever has the better ability to argue/coerce/convince/plead coercing the interaction into the type they wanted it to be. So you could intend to push, I could intend to pull, and we could end up pulling or pushing depending on who gets their way in the end. (We’ll also probably both be unhappy.) Thus if you’re my GM and say “It’s raining” and mean “I am saying it is raining, that is said and done don’t argue” and I say, “It would be better if it is clear and sunny” and mean “I want to modify what you said because I think you want my input now” then we get into issues. If you force it over me anyway, then it stays pull. If I get you to mod it, then your push got subverted. As with communication it’s the thing in the middle, the thing we end up communicating, that is where push and pull sit.

Luckily for us this does hook up with the resolution theory pretty well. If you think that you’re getting to do DatE and say something, and I think that you’re going to DitM and try to mod what you’ve just said… we end up with issues. If we have a good social contract and/or explicit system to fall back on then we can use that system to figure out what we are doing and why. If we don’t, we’ll end up in the same muddle as above – with the one of us that can finagle the best getting it out over the other guy. Knowing what you are doing, what the other person is doing, and who has rights to do which is thus key to keeping things flowing smoothly. So at that level being able to have system/social contract that says “we can push/DatE in situations t, u, and v; but must pull/DitM at situations w, x, and y” is just making sure we’re on the same page and doing the same thing so we have fewer miscommunications and abuses of those miscommunications.

Thus all the confusion over “is it push or pull because I say it or because the other person perceives it” is missing the point. It is both, and neither. What you intend matters, what they perceive matters, but what the social dynamic/resolution method of the game ends up actually being because of the fusion of intent/reception/and social force is what determines if it was a push or a pull.

So, given everything I’ve said above, lets consider a game where you cannot even finalize your character’s intent (first I in IIEE) until you have the approval of other players AND everyone at the table knows that explicitly. At that point we’ve got an In the Middle for resolving Intent. You say, “I push you off the roof.” But, every single one of us at the table knows that you aren’t doing any such thing. In fact, what you’re really saying is, “Can my character want to push yours off the roof?” Because until you’re done with the system for resolving intent, you haven’t even gotten the authority to want to do anything ICly yet. You don’t have authority to push me off the roof, or even have you character want to push me off the roof, until I’ve bought into it or had a say about it. Because you have to get my buy in before it happens, then it must be….

I chose this example on purpose, because most of us are used to games in which our intents, and the intents of our characters, are fully under our authority. Much as someone may be able to stop us from executing the push over the roof, they can’t stop us from saying that our character wants to. But, if even intent is something that must be done ITM, then you can’t even form an intent as a final action until after others have had a shot at it.

OTOH, if you have the authority to say “My character wants to push your character off the roof” then you’ve made a push/ATE at the intent level. Once you’ve said that is what your character wants, there ain’t nothing I can do about it. However, even then we now know that is only one part, and that it can still get turned into a pull/ITM at the Initiation level with any number of responses.


However, I think that here we also are seeing another issue with the current discussion and why people have a hard time seeing the connection between P/P and DitM/DatE – because one dealt with a lot of issues, including the emotional resonance of the action, and the other is focusing very specifically on the systemic expression of the resolution. To put it in bastardized Forgese, DitM/DatE are dealing with things at the level of technical agenda and large parts of P/P were dealing with things at the level of social/emotional agenda. However, the two overlap heavily (especially in the P/P arena where they weren’t clearly defined), and one leads into the other.

So, despite the fact that the “I push you off the roof” in the above example is clearly something you have to buy into before it can happen, it feels very forceful to someone who is used to playing under a different social situation than the one described above. Because of that people want to “pad” the issue because they want to use a method of resolution that gives a certain emotional resonance. For example, the second example above can lead to a much different game than the first because in one you still have to deal with the fact that another PC wants to kill you. In the first you don’t. OTOH, it may help some people if the first was phrased as a question rather than a statement, even though (and let me emphasize this part) phrasing it as a question does not change the logical or technical structure of the statement, it can change the emotional or social structure of it.

I’ve seen this happen over and over in getting abused players from illusionist games to open up to Nar. They will take everything you do DitM/FitM/pull/whatever in whatever to be a big pushy DatE that only the GM can use. When the GM says something, that’s law. The GM is always right, and always has final word, and very often his first word is the final word. So people get a certain social/emotional habit towards game and when they move to games where they have rights and can use DitM or even DatE themselves they still feel like they’re being pushed and don’t have the right to push themselves. A lot of us drive ourselves nuts trying to figure out why they won’t use the rules to let them do what they can do – but the reason is really pretty obvious: we haven’t given them the emotional ability to deal with what they want to do yet. Part of that may well be their own bad past experience, but part of it may also be the way we frame things and the way the game feels. In a very real way that confidence doesn’t come from what you can and can’t do by the rules, it comes from what you feel you can and can’t do under the rules.

And now that I’ve brought up that issue, I’m going to table it for the moment. I do think we very much need to talk about how to use itM/atE and such to make people feel confident in the game, and all that other stuff that Mo was pointing towards with P/P – but I also don’t want to do it until we have some more development of how the rules would work to structure play. Once we’re to a point where we can talk about different modes of structure, we can talk about how those modes support different social agendas. (Funny, isn’t it, how much we talk about creative and technical agenda and how rarely we have discussions of the same depth about social or emotional agendas?)

So, I promise we’ll get back to that. Social and emotional agenda are important. Anyone that thinks otherwise is being silly. I just want to have some more detail and surety on the whole DitM/DatE before we get there. Okay?

end digression

Right, so back to discussing the structure of resolution, where we’ll stay until we get to the point were we’re solid enough with mechanics and systems and how they’re actually working to get back to the discussion on how they effect social and emotional agendas.

So The Thing Is

I think some of us have gotten used to thinking of resolution in terms of “conflict resolution” – which is a good thing in some ways. We should be able to resolve conflicts, and have coherent systems for so doing. But, we can’t overlook the fact that resolving a conflict is made up of a series of smaller resolutions. Many times we overlook those because they are assumed, or because someone has the authority to just make them happen. Things like framing intent, for example, aren’t often thought of in terms of resolution because in most trad games you have the authority to frame your character’s intent however you want. But if you acknowledge that in some game somewhere you could have to negotiate with others to even frame your intent, you realize that there is, in fact a choice there, and that choice is actually resolving something.

From that point, you have to play and design to make a resolution that gives you what you want out of the game. If you don’t want people to be endlessly figuring out what their intent is, make it so they have authority over it. If you want people to have to work together from the first moment, however, make that intent framing something that happens in the middle.

Now I’m sure you all have many questions. Good. For now, however, I only want comments from Vincent, and Mo so that they can tell me all the errors I’ve made, and we can work this out. From there I’ll open up a thread where others can comment. I may do this in waves, adding a few new people to comment each time, so that the thread can get multiple input without getting drowned in the competing (and not really listening) voices that tend to crush so many threads in the cold, nasty world of the net.

Pull|Push: The Moment of Crisis

This article is archived from Brand’s Yudhishthira’s Dice post of May 16 2006.

This should be the last post here. After this I will be moving to a new blog (at long last). But I couldn’t get it up and running before I went out of town on vactaion, so I figured I’d post this here. So away we go:

Since Mo brought out her first article on push and pull, there has been a lot of talk about the subject. Since she came out with the short definitions, with the help of Chris, there has been (possibly) even more talk. A lot of it centers around the divide between push and pull and when and where and why that happens, leading to a lot of confusion.

One of the key issues I see being mulled is something that is implicit in theDeep in the Game discussion (which is why it helps to read the whole thing) that may not be clear in the definitions if you haven’t actually read where they came out of, is what I am choosing to call the moment of crisis. The way the moment of crisis fits into push or pull is pretty simple to say, but may take a bit longer to explain. So stay with me here, and actually read the whole thing.

Push and Pull can both lead to collaboration (pull inherently, push with any degree of skill) but the point at which the buy-in and investment happens is different. If you get the other people’s investment before bringing the moment of crisis by soliciting input, buy-in, and authority sharing then it is pull. If you get the other people’s responses after you have already brought the moment of crisis by using your authority to force something, then it is push. Thus the way the definitions are phrased:

Push is an assertion of individual authority.

Pull is a directed solicitation for collaborative buy-in and input

Could be read as having the addenda “before the moment of crisis” – because with Push assertion of authority comes first, and with pull solicitation comes first.* After you’ve pushed comes the moment of crisis, which others must respond to. After you’ve pulled, you work together to create a moment of crisis. So the GM saying, “You go to see the king” is a push, because after that you’re seeing the King, the GM has that authority and has used it to bring the crisis. But the player asking “Can we go see the King” in a game where the players have no authority to scene frame is a pull — because it may lead to the moment of crisis with the king, but only after the GM buys in and collaberates.

The tricky part here, really, is what the moment of crisis is. Some people have been looking at in only in terms of inserting something into the fiction. That is, if you say something and it happens in the game, it must be a moment of crisis, right? Well, no, not really. Also, it is easily possible to have a moment of crisis without anything being inserted into the fiction.

Which brings us to the tricky issue of what a moment of crisis is. To give my simplest definition: a moment of crisis is when something that strongly matters is decided or formalized. If it doesn’t matter, if it isn’t strong, if it isn’t something that is going to bring reaction or change in a real way, it probably isn’t a crisis. It’s just something that happened.

As a note, my experience with Trad RPG play vs. directed Forge style play tends to be that trad RPGs are willing to spend a lot of time between moments of crisis, working up to them organically, while Forge style play tends to scene frame right up to the crisis. Consider the hours long D&D; talking in the Inn scene vs. the PTA “you’ve got 15 minutes to find, contest, and narrate a conflict that is interesting to your character.” In different games moments of crisis may come slowly, or they may come every action.

So, how do we know if something is a moment of crisis or not? That is tricky, because it depends on the social and creative situation around the table. You absolutely cannot tell if something is a moment of crisis without knowing what is going on in and around the game, and to help demonstrate why, I’m going to encapsulate a conversation between Alex F and myself that happened on the 20×20 room.

In the Deep in the Game post Chris had given an example of someone pulling by doing something in the fiction – so they’ve already done something, and Alex immediately went to the issue of if it is a moment of crisis or not, though he didn’t use that exact term. What he said was:
“My fighter leaves his most valuable magic ring out at the campsite and falls asleep while your thief stays awake.” (from the Deep in The Game discussion, right?)
I cannot see how this is purely “a solicitation for input from other players”.
If I’m playing with a strong Narr agenda, stealing that ring affects my character, and my notion of her. But so does not stealing that ring. Similarly, all the duel examples being given, are direct challenges in terms of Step on Up – and to refuse to take it says something just as sure as not taking it. I am being forced to respond, just as surely as I am forced to respond if you say “I challenge you to a duel” or have your thief steal my ring in the night. (Admittedly, this gets less clear if you are playing to explore/celebrate the fiction, though I suppose a decision not to explore the implications of inter-party thieving sends a message about your preferences).

See how right away he gets at the heart of it? Did what the fighter’s player did bring it to a moment of crisis by his authority? If so it is a push. But if he didn’t, if the important moment hasn’t happened yet, it is a pull. My response to Alex went like this, though I’m modding it here to update it to the language we’re using now:
It depends on social contract and background at the table. This goes right back to the first essays on push and pull, and the fact that it can be really damn hard to know if a given example is a push or pull unless you know a lot about the background of the game.

So, if the social contract at the table is hardcore Nar, in which it is assumed that your character must respond and must make a thematic choice to every opportunity presented to him, then the example is a push. If the fighter player’s goal is to force you to make a choice, any choice and not to actually get you to steal the ring, then he has already used his authority to push it to the moment of crisis. Under that setup, once the fighter leaves the ring out, you have no choice but to respond to it, and no matter how you respond to it you will have made a choice. If that was his only goal, then he’s pushed you into it.

But the example as Chris stated it did not assume that. It assumed that the fighter’s goal was to get you to steal the ring in order to create a plot. Not to make a choice about stealing it or not in a thematic way, but to actually steal it in order to drive the story in a new direction. The moment of crisis hasn’t come yet, because the two of you together haven’t decided if you are going to move the story in that direction or not yet. So simply saying “I do not steal it” is not saying “I am making a strong moral choice about my thief” it is just saying, “I’m not interested in going there right now.” Because it wasn’t at the moment of crisis you still have to buy in before it can get there.

Also, in the first case you may not be able to say, “I just don’t notice” but in the second case you can. If you can say, “I say my character doesn’t notice because he’s (insert any reason here, like ‘thinking about stealing the cleric’s holy symbol’), so my character doesn’t have to make a choice about that ring” then you aren’t being forced into any response in game.

Under that social agenda the thematic choice of your character stealing it or not to define his moral compass is not the challenge to you, is not the goal of the other player, and so simply having to make an OOC choice is not forcing you to define anything other than your OOC interest at this moment. There is no crisis yet, it only gets to that point after you collaborate.
If your social contract makes that particular example something that you must respond to because it is a fiat accompli, the moment of crisis has arrived because of what they already have done with their authority, then it is probably a push. If it is not a fiat accompli, because the moment of crisis cannot arrive until after you buy in, and what is on the table is an invitation (or even a bribe), then it is a pull.

So at that point your example and Chris’s example aren’t actually the same example because you assumed different social situations and backgrounds. Yours is an assertion of authority (“I have the right to make you chose, and choice is the thing the game is about”) and his is a solicitation for buy-in (“Hey, if you steal it this cool thing can happen”). His comes before the crisis has been reached, yours after.

Another person that gave me a useful example of this just yesterday was a new member of the Foundry who was talking about new techniques he’s been picking up since he started reading the Forge and other theory articles. (I’ll note that he came to it through Bruce Baugh, so despite any recent difficulties there are still bridges to be built!). One of the things he said was along the lines of:
So I know the player wants some adventure, but the character isn’t going towards anything I had ready. So I stopped the game and asked OOC, “What do you need in order to get into this?” and the player told me. After that I was able to setup the situation and the player was all over it. In the old days I may not have been willing to stop the game, because I thought I had to do everything without talking about it or negotiating it.”

In the “old days” all he knew how to do was push, to drive it to the moment of crisis and hope the players bought in after the moment of crisis had been established. And without flags even! (Flags are so nice for letting you target pushes that you can feel more confident about getting buy in over after the moment of crisis. Without them you’re stabbing blind.) But this time rather than using his authority to bring something on and hoping it would hit the player’s buttons, he stopped and got the player to buy-in and help by investing their authority over the character before the moment came. So when the werewolf (I think it was) finally showed up, the player was already all over every inch of it.

Push can lead to collaboration. Hell, it can lead to POWERFUL collaboration. But it does so by getting the other person to buy in after you’ve already forced something to crisis. And the downside of push is that without skill, tools, or both you run a risk of making something that other players are really not happy about. How many skilless pushy GMs in the ages have forced moments of crisis that made every player’s eyes roll back in their head?

Pull gets the collaboration before the moment of crisis. It does so by getting the other person to buy in before you bring it to crisis together. And the downside of pull is that without skill, tools, or both you can run a real risk of people never letting you get anything you really want without endless concessions, or end up manipulating you into agreeing to things you didn’t actually want. How many manipulative players in the ages have gotten people to buy in with them and then after the crisis was over had everyone else realize they’d been screwed?

It is also worth noting that you have to have authority to push. You can’t force a moment of crisis unless you have the authority to force. You do not have to have authority to pull, because if you can get other people to buy in then their authority can carry it to crisis — but only if you get the buy in to happen first.

So, there it is. The moment of crisis is when something important to the game, under your social and creative contract, is brought to a head. Pull gets people to buy in before that moment, and then brings everyone already invested to the moment. Push gets people to buy in (hopefully) after that moment, because the moment is brought about by the individual authority of the pusher and other reactions come after.

*Note that this works differently between the “techniques of RPGing” use of push and pull, and the general social use of push and pull. The difference is illustrated in one of Mo’s responses on the Deep in the Game discussion in which she said:
I agree with you, wherein we are talking about the general, directional transaction of the act. So “Pull” at it’s base, social classification is a soliciitation for buy-in and input (in or out of game, really). It’s a classification used to analyze the interaction.

However Pull used as a technique, is something more than just that, which is why I think I was making the qualitative distinction earlier. “So what kind of character was he?” is a pull in social classification, but it’s not a technique. It’s not constructed, it doesn’t really lead anywhwere specific; it encourages a particular kind of feedback in return, but it does not give any guideline for the input it expects.

So, pull as a technique is: “solicitation for buy in and input enacted to go to in a specific direction in a collaborative way.”

Finding a moment of crisis for social push and pull is much harder. Doing it when you have chosen (consciously or not) to use a technique to move a game shouldn’t be as hard.

[C+P] Playtest Shilling + P/P

[xposted on SG]

Now that I’ve let it slip that my design for Crime and Punishment was partially an experiment in mechanically supported pull/push, and there are folks out there revving to see push/pull in action or to talk about the application of the model as it applies to design….

Can I get any takers to do playtesting? Huh? Huh? Pretty please? Crime and Punishment will restore receeding hairlines! Help you lose 10 pounds! Liven up your sex lives! Enlarge your…. well you get the idea. ;P

Easier than anything, you only need three players and 2 hours to play!

I’m going to go with playtesting for the moment based on the Game Chef version of the game which can be found here. So if the answer is yes, let me know and just snag a copy from the link!

Push and Pull – One Last Time

(This was posted over on StoryGames, I thought since I put so much work into it, I should paste it in here, too. It helps me, continuity-wise, too.)

Chris and I have been knocking Push and Pull out very fruitfully over on Deep in the Game. Thanks Chris!

Here are your no-nonsense definitions:

Push is an assertion of individual authority.

Pull is a directed solicitation for collaborative buy-in and input.

Both Push and Pull are a part of fundamental human communication patterns. They are tools used in social interactions that provide movement to the interaction and provoke response and action within it.

In a RPG context, Push and Pull happen both as they do in a non game context (socially and incidentally because we are still people engaging in interaction), and as techniques used to affect the game, the social environment and the drama. Both Push and Pull can be mechanically or non-mechanically supported, functional or dysfunctional, effective or non-effective. Neither is inherently better or worse than the other, though people can have preferences for one or the other.

A player, using a Push technique, uses his own authority to put something out there. This something could be an assertion of an element or action into the fiction, it could be something in the social contract that causes or prevents something from happening (E.g. identifying that an NGH or TTP line has reached a hard stop) or in other ways (I’m not going to categorically list them here, that could be a discussion for a future time, suffice to say that although a push can be used as a technique to address the fiction, it’s not tied to it).

Push Example #1:

Game: Truth & Justice

Situation: The heroine has just found out that she has a long lost brother, and that her brother idolizes her secret identity for her work in the same science area that he is studying in. She, a precog, has a vision in which her estranged father and long lost brother are in a mall when a group of assassins break in and try to kill them. She could go save them, but if she does a whole busload of schoolgirls who have been captured by an evil cult will die terrible horrible sacrificial deaths. She chooses to go save the schoolgirls, because the ritual that they are being killed in may prove very, very bad for the world. In the vision where her brother and father are, the guns ring out, the bullets fly, and the father and brother are gunned down, their blood splattering.

The player (me) takes 4 hero points and hands them to the GM (Brand), declaring “Major Detect & Discover. Josh [the brother] is a mutant. He doesn’t die.” Brand cackles and gives time powers to Josh, so that when the reality of the precog vision comes true, he rewinds time in the second before he dies and uses his power to take out the villain, saving himself and their father.

I didn’t want the brother to die without having my character have a chance to interact with him, so I used a mechanic available to me to make it not happen.

Push Example #2:

Game: Unbreakable (A home-styled nar game) that’s loosely styled on the themes of M Night’s movie Unbreakable.

Situation: Our hero has been putting his ass on the line to make his Alphabet City neighborhood a safer place. In doing so, he’s pissed off a number of gangs in the area. In a previous bang, he had seen a member of the gang that has been hunting him down being shaken down by three guys of a rival gang over mule-ing drugs through their territory. Arjuna had interceded, scared the rival gangs off and saved the kid’s life. He even gave him back the drugs, as a show of good faith/bribe to leave his block alone.

The kid, afraid of what would happen if the leader found out about getting his ass saved by an enemy hadn’t passed the message on, so in another scene, when Arjuna’d come face to face with the sociopathic leader of the main gang, and had pointed out his show of good faith, the fit hit the shan. The gang leader thanked him for the interaction, and declared the feud between them over. He told Arjuna he would take care of the discrepancies.

Coming home that night, the GM (me) declares that in the vacant lot behind his house, the kid is dead – gutted – and has been left on display for him. The area has been police taped, and cops are on the scene. Alongside the body: the knapsack, likely still carrying his prints.

I put something down in front of him that said: Here, deal with that shit.

A player, using a Pull technique, solicits another player’s buy-in or input. This can happen by catering input to the other player’s tastes, by enticement, by reward, by negotiation, by collaborative mutual decision (and I’m sure there are other ways) Again, the Pull can be used to influence the fiction, but Pull techniques are not limited to the fiction.

Pull Example #1:

Game: The same Truth & Justice game as Push #1

Situation: Heroine encounters a villain for the first time. The game has a very graphic novel feel, and the social contract of the game has it established that there is (like many comic books) usually a pattern wherein at the first meeting, the villain will gets away, eluding the heroine.

The scene is set in a bank with a robbery underway, the mooks present are human goons for hire with lots of bad ass weaponry, the main villainess is a sexy succubus-y she-devil that is enrapturing the Bank Manager. The character comes in with great pith and daring do, and faithfully begins to kick the asses of the mooks en route to the main villainess. The mooks prove to be too numerous and too underhanded and threaten the innocents in the bank, but if she doesn’t do something about it, the villainess will get away with the booty!
The heroine takes the only action she has to spare to do a single attack on the villain, knocking her away from the bank manager, and into the vault and as part of her description says:

“Paper bank notes and bills flutter away from the hefty vault door as it slams shut with a satisfying THUD and a long series of clicks that lock the Hell Queen in its deep heart, keeping the bank’s patrons safely clear of her terrible, evil tactics!” The player (me), turns to the GM (Brand), raises an eyebrow and says in overly accentuated, sarcastic way:

“And Déjà Vu turns back and focuses her FULL attention on the members of Terror Inc, FULLY CONFIDENT that her “safe deposit” will be waiting for her once she has taken care of the gunboys!” Wink wink, nudge, nudge.

Brand, grins and says “Revolting Development?” and I agree, roll my dice and cash in on hero points which I then use to lay a righteous smackdown on the Terror Inc boys. When I get back to the vault to collect the villain, there is a hole melted in the floor, and the villainess and the booty are, of course, long, long gone.

If the villain got away, I wanted her to get away because something completely unexpected (to the character) had happened while my character continued to do the righteous smackdown. I was also low on Hero Points and knew that the Revolting Development would pay off. So, because I wanted these things, I created a situation where both requirements could be fulfilled, and one that I knew would be appealing enough for Brand to pick up on.

I wanted to go in a direction and so I made it a direction that Brand would like so that we could go that way together.

Pull Example #2:

Game: Breaking the Ice

Situation: It’s getting on to the end of the third date, and the fates of the lovers are being decided. They’ve racked up a pretty high attraction score, but their compatibility rating is low. This is reflected in the game’s fiction. The characters have never been ambivalent about each other; they’ve never fully managed to make it to a place where they click romantically, but they end up in bed despite that. Afterwards, one of the characters (mine) shows a bit of the desperation of the act by drawing a parallel between watching the woman he just lay with as she slept and the love of his life that died in a car accident (in which he was driving in heavy rain) a year ago. The other player (Brand) finding the earlier silly-ish game ending on too dour a note, wanting a chance at a bonus die, and knowing that I have a penchant for elegiac romance, wakes his character up and has her comfort him, saying in character:

“I can’t promise that I’ll be here forever, or even that I’ll love you forever, but I’m here now, and I love you now, and that’s enough. It’s a mistake to think you were driving then, or that you are driving now. Life is hydroplaning, and there isn’t any control to be had.”

And he earned the bonus die, and in their mutual comfort earned the one last compatibility (#3) that gave them at least a slim shot of making it.

Brand wanted something with more hope, and he wanted the characters to have a chance, so he found a way to appeal to my tastes in game to use a mechanically supported tool that allowed me to reward his pull.

Why is any of this important?

Well, if you’re designing, analysis of these kinds of social transactions and how they differ from each other helps you understand what kind of game you are creating, and who will be happy with it.

Now, I’ve never used the Power 19, because my brain naturally does this sort of thing without needing the tool, but it seems to me that if it represents a list of the things that are important to consider in game design and theory (which it seems to be, considering how many talk about it/use it), that discussion of social transactions such as Push and Pull are intrinsically connected to the following questions:

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
9.) What does your game do to command the players’ attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
19.) Who is your target audience?

If the idea is to intentionally build games that cater to the target audience to maximize the potential fun that could be had by them, then it would be extremely helpful to consider whether the game coexists peacefully with the skills of your target audience and provide extra, explicit support to the skills that are not inherent to the group.

Conversely, if your target audience is “As many people as goddamn possible.”? Well, then, understanding the kinds of different play out there helps you to identify where support will be needed to get different players to peacefully co-exist in the same game while achieving the maximum potential for fun.

Example in Action:

I put my observations of Push and Pull into direct application in Crime and Punishment. In life, I like Pull. It’s energizing, it builds. I am less comfortable with Push, it feels confrontational and space invading. Now this doesn’t mean I don’t find Push useful… obviously I do, because I employ Push techniques in my games.

Crime and Punishment is designed to build collaborative environments that build investment between members of the player group to provide a basis and support for applying hardcore Push.


Read the game. The entire first half is all built on Pull techniques, contributing ideas, soliciting investment, earning the approval and buy in of the other players to create a communal endeavor. The second half of the game is all Push. In this environment of investment and reinforced by the framework we have built together, players can now Push hard against each other to maximize the potential of the storyboard. To make the drama come to life. The mechanics support it here, too. You use the investment of other players that you have earned, to bid and buy and win how you want things to happen in the game.

Please go read C+P with all of this in mind.

While you’re at it, if all of this has finally made some semblance of coherent sense, you might want to go read a bunch of stuff again:

Push & Pull
Pull Clarification and Promises
Brand Pushes and Pulls and Blows Himself Down
Push & Pull on The 20×20 Room
Push | Pull The Moment of Crisis
I think that’s all I have for now.



[BitV] Logs – Setup and Session 1

Hey all,

There were demands on Storygames for us to share the logs of the sessions of our All-Female Dogs game, affectionately called “Bitches in the Vinyard”.

Here are the logs, edited for clarity:

In case it isn’t clear from the context:

  • Lines preceeded by “OOC” are out of character.
  • Lines preceeded by “Dogs: ” are the dice and resolution effects.
  • “Sister Abigail” is “KJ” Jessica – kleenestar.
  • “Sister Clemintine” is “PJ” Jesica – peaseblossom
  • “Sister Hannah” is Nancy
  • “Sister Chase” is Mo

Also, we experienced some technical problems with our first conflict resolution tool, so if the numbers seem screwy, don’t worry about it.




Brand and I have had our hotel booked since February, and although the reasons that we were planning on going have changed (Suryamaya will not be released but Crime and Punishment came into being and will) we were both totally hyped about going. Since Jonathan asked what my plans were around boothing it, I’ve been a flurry of emails with what seemed like the whole world about the ins, outs and upside downs about Gencon distributing.

I’d like to thank Jonathan Walton, Ben Lehman, Emily Care Boss, Ron Edwards, Luke Crane and Brennan Taylor for all of their help, advice and encouragement over the last week. It’s made me very excited about the release of Crime & Punishment, and very happy about the coming of Gencon.

Which is why this is so dissappointing. 🙁

I regret to say that Brand and I will not be able to go to Gencon this year. Life has taken a strange and wonderful turn and we will likely not even be in the country at that time. I can’t really discuss the details of what’s going on as of yet, but suffice to say, our plans for Gencon have been well, and truely scratched.

That said, I still plan to release Crime and Punishment in time for Gencon, and hope to have it distributed in my absence, though I haven’t figured that one out quite yet.

And for all those folks that Brand and I promised games and drinks and strange times to? Well, you’ll have to go back next year to collect, because we will be there with bells on.

Syncronicity Moment – Push/Pull Communication Modes

Okay, so there’s this very excellent post by Paul Tevis over on RPG Talk that talks about Push/Pull in regards to Setting. This is interesting all on it’s own, and I’ll be thinking about it more in future days when my brain has more room to think, but what made me pick up the link and put it here is his later comments about Push and Pull modes of communication:

“Writing for Presentation and Setting are essentially Push techniques. They’re both ways of saying, “Here’s my position. I’m done. Here you go.” Writing for Discussion and Situation are essentially Pull techniques. They’re both about giving the other person room to tell their side, to make what you’ve started into something different and bigger than what you would have done on your own.”

This is one of the things I was trying to get to in my blathery way back when, but put together much more coherently and eloquently, especially once married to Brand’s excellent discussion with him in the comments. It’s something I’m struggling with over on Storygames, as I try, for the first time in a while to not give up on a forum. I generally don’t do so well on forums, (especially RPG ones) because of the exact thing Paul is talking about.

There’s a discussion happening over there, and it’s about gender, and I’ve been cautious to get too far into it because it’s a tarbaby in that context, because, I think that it has everything to do with gender while simultaneously have nothing to do with gender (I also didn’t want to co-opt the very real concern of the person starting the thread with my own issues). I like that Paul has put it back into the Push Pull context, because while Push/Pull were labeled Male/Female (partially my own fault) that’s not the way that I meant them, and I think that though you can make analogies, that they are essentially divorced from a any concept of sex or gender.

Push and Pull communication modes are not gender connected in any essentialist way at all. I know tons of Pull boys and Push girls. Throw a boy in a bubble over here and a girl in a bubble over there and pull them out as adults and neither will push or pull effectively at all. Neither will socialize effectively at all. Gender only has to do with Push and Pull as much as there is a very big difference (historically more so but still very real) between the way that most boys and most girls are socialized, and the way that girls are socialized have more to do with Pull than they do with Push (though exclusively neither) and vice versa with boys and Push.

So: nothing to do with gender, yet everything to do with gender. Boys by nature are no more capable of pushing than girls, or girls more capable of pulling, but many socialization experiences for each actively encourage one and discourage the other.

So gender aside: it is true for me. I was actively sociallized to Pull and actively (strongly) socialized not to Push. So it’s fun and comfortable and energizing for me to engage in activities relying primarily on Pull but difficult and uncomfortable and draining to engage in activities that rely on Push. I find forums maddening because the mode of most discussions are “Here’s my position. I’m done. Here you go.” followed by a series of challenges and defenses: all Push.

Worse than that, many of them masquerade (or honestly start out) as Pulls: “Here’s where I am, where are you, what does that mean?” and this is inviting to me, but once I’m part of them, they quickly move to Push: declaration, challenge, defense. When it happens I can get frustrated, angry, or hurt because I’ve been promised something that feels collaborative and have been given something that feels competetive, and I am there to share and explore, not to debate.

Now that I have words for it, I can identify that that’s why I started Sin Aesthetics, because I wanted to take part in the body of work that’s being built, but it allows me (for the most part, though less successfully in the past than it will be in the future) to pull the topics I am interested in, as well as moderate to control the amount of push in the discussion.

Now, to touch the tarbaby (hopefully with some latex gloves) for one second: If I’m right, and boys are socialized to push more often than pull, and there are disproportionately greater numbers of boys in RPG than girls, that means that there is a disproportionate amount of push in forums and games than pull, and that because of that, Pull mode people (be they boys or girls) will always feel less welcomed, less comfortable and less accepted than Push mode people.

Thanks Paul. 🙂

P.S. If you don’t understand and need to see the difference, go to SG and read two threads: A Very Special Gender and Gaming Conversation and Playing Across Gender Lines. When you read them, pay less attention to what is being said than how it is being said, and how the what changes the engagement level of the people involved. See if you can identify who’s uses Push Mode and who Pull and how that affects the discussion.

It may not be true for all push threads and pull threads, but the results of each of those threads also goes a long way in explaining why pull is fufilling to me and why push is not.