« Home | Gods in the Vineyard » | Trollbabe and Alternative Maps » | Designing And Nuttin' Else » | Where's the Indie Game Success Story? » | Play like you MEAN it » | Survey on the Styles of Games » | "Realism" and "Fairness" . . . » | When are Puzzles Fun? » | Danger Patrol Geomorphs » | Administrivia - Trackbacks »

The What?

Vincent said this over in his forum at the Forge. He's responding to someone who wondered if the "god" in Dogs in the Vineyard was "real" in the game-world.

My take is that the question's nonsensical, impossible to answer.

The game presents a procedure for you, the players, to follow. Follow it and you'll create stories of a certain type, and you'll (probably) have fun doing it.

The "physics" and "metaphysics" of the "game world" - I don't even know how to talk about such impossible beasties. There's no "game world," even in your game, just some fictional stuff and events. No "physics" or "metaphysics" underlie them, you create them out of your heads following the procedure I describe.

In the "game world" does "God" "really exist"? You might as well ask whether the clocks in "the world" of Salvador Dali's paintings still tell time. "Do their little gears and stuff work, when they're all floppy like that?" All I can do to answer is blink stupidly. The what?


Chew on that.

Holy crap, awesome.

This is exactly the sort of thing I wish I could articulate, and am glad we have Vincent around for.

I think it's about the silliest thing I've heard in a long, long time.

"The metaphysics of the game world" is really just a second-order abstraction. No more "impossble" than high school algebra -- or a discussion of what Hamlet means when he muses on the ghost.

It's really very prosaic that if there's such a thing as an SIS, that stuff must happen in it. The things that happen in it are abstractions. We can talk about these abstractions: it's commonly understood that the statement "The Hulk has green skin" refers to an abstraction. We don't go around saying things like "The abstraction known as The Hulk has, in his abstract existence, abstractly green skin." But that's exactly what we mean when we say "The Hulk has green skin," which of course refers to such "impossible beasties." So there's really a very very ordinary explanation for how and why we talk about fictional things as if they were real. It doesn't mean that we believe that they are. Sheesh.

Extrapolating from his point, I imagine, is that the only people it (the absolute existence of God in the Dogs "world") could possibly matter to are the people actually playing their own game of it, and only if it comes up in, y'know, actual play. If it doesn't come up, it doesn't matter no matter what Vincent may think.

Funny enough, I'm saddened that so few people get it. DitV isn't based on simulating a form of physics in any fashion- why would the "reality" of any of the imaginary elements be something to determine? I mean, if you wanted to play low supernatural, it's very possible the "demons" are just bad luck and apotasy projected into a belief system.

No- the pont of Dogs is that if there actually IS a higher power, it's not giving any answers, and it's not helping out anyone in an overt way to confirm its existence. Which is why Dogs is so compelling. Likewise, that's why Sorcerer's Humanity gains and checks are a random roll- you could be a complete ass and still have a chance of never being "punished".

It's the unreliability of the higher powers, the absence of a confirmation of universal order- all that is what creates the blank slate for the players to write the awesome theme-y goodness through play.

http://blog.kumapageworks.org/?p=23

If a die rolls in the forest and no one sees it, will it be a natural 20?

Kuma nailed it in one. Matt's on target, too.

Chris, your post is exactly what turns so many people off about theory discussions. The immediate ad hominem that anyone disagrees with you just doesn't understand.

You haven't said a damn thing that has any relevance to the topic at hand: Vincent's statement "There's no 'game world', even in your game, just some fictional stuff and events." Parenthetically, what on earth could the game world possibly be other than some fictional stuff and events? I smell a straw man.

But back to the topic at hand. You seem to have locked in on the physics that might underlie the game world, as if that were a prerequisite. We don't need to develop the physics of Middle Earth to talk intelligibly about Frodo and Sam's relationship. It's not at all necessary to have physics or metaphysics to have a game world.

As for "No- the pont of Dogs is that if there actually IS a higher power, it's not giving any answers, and it's not helping out anyone in an overt way to confirm its existence." This is a total red herring. No one's disputing that; it's pretty well established by the Dogs rules of resolution.

The fact is, I totally agree that there's no canonical setting in Dogs. That doesn't mean that the players don't create a setting through play, or that discussion of said setting is "talking about impossible beasties."

First: Lee, don't be such a dick. People are allowed to tell you that you don't understand something. It's not an "attack." Chill the fuck out.

Second: You agree with Vincent! When you say, "We don't need to develop the physics of Middle Earth to talk intelligibly about Frodo and Sam's relationship. It's not at all necessary to have physics or metaphysics to have a game world."

That's what V's post means. I tried to see how you're "arguing" with his point, but it's just not there. Everything you've said in these comments is in accord with Vincent's point.

Hi Lee,

Chris, your post is exactly what turns so many people off about theory discussions. The immediate ad hominem that anyone disagrees with you just doesn't understand.

Thanks for amply demonstrating. I'll keep it in mind for the future.

You may be right, John, that I agree with Vincent. But the only way that can happen is if Vincent is using a definition of "game world" that requires that a game world be inherently canonical -- ie, that when we say "game world", we mean "the setting as created by the game designer(s)." I'd submit that that's an exceedingly unusual definition of 'game world,' and not at all what the average gamer thinks of when he hears 'game world.' It's certainly not what I think of, but then I know that my experiences about how setting has been treated in game play are very very different than Vincent's. Maybe enough different that I really just can't read his writing and understand what he means to convey.

Is that what you meant? Also, is that what game world means to you?

Since 'game world' seems to be the problem child here, I'll even go one step farther and define what game world means to me: the game world is the SIS plus the non-shared pieces of the Imagined Space that each of the players have individually. This latter bit, coverage of the IISs (Individual Imagined Space), is relevant to the game because it influences what each of the players will contribute to the SIS.

So, for example, written source materials are not part of the game world until such time as they are read by one of the players and integrated into that player's IIS.

Chris, I do apologize for my earlier tone. I was tired, frustrated, and out of line.

Second: You agree with Vincent! When you say, "We don't need to develop the physics of Middle Earth to talk intelligibly about Frodo and Sam's relationship. It's not at all necessary to have physics or metaphysics to have a game world."

Actually it is necessary. We don't have to worry about the physics of Middle Earth because they are, so far as we can tell, identical to that of our own experience.

The metaphysics of Middle Earth are important, because they differ considerably from our own. An RPG that didn't deal with the magical/mystical aspects of Middle Earth would be doing a disservice to the people who bought it. That's not just to say that a game about Middle Earth has to revolve around magic, or should include it for marketing reasons - magic and mystical events are at the core of the stories.

To be honest, it sounds like the original poster in the thread was asking for advice from the designer of the game on his perception of Truth of the setting. That's not such an odd thing to go asking for, really. Does it mean that everyone has to adhere to Vincent's interpretation? No. Do some people need more guidance than others? Yes.

Since 'game world' seems to be the problem child here, I'll even go one step farther and define what game world means to me: the game world is the SIS plus the non-shared pieces of the Imagined Space that each of the players have individually. This latter bit, coverage of the IISs (Individual Imagined Space), is relevant to the game because it influences what each of the players will contribute to the SIS.

So, for example, written source materials are not part of the game world until such time as they are read by one of the players and integrated into that player's IIS.


I'd take a step back from that and say that there are some portions of the game's canon which are inherent to everyone's experience of the game, because they're codified in the rules or the character sheet. Every town in DitV has a space for 'demonic attacks'. Assuming that you were coming to this fresh, you'd have to assume that there's demons in the world of DitV. That's a metaphysical stance on the game world of DitV that doesn't require anything other than the town sheet.

Everyone's character sheet for D&D has a column for Spells, multiple languages, weapons and the like. These things tell us expectations about what we're going to need in the world of D&D before we even get there.

This is really interesting. I think people just have an inherent way of thinking about this stuff that's fundamentally one way or the other. Nobody's ever going to convince someone on the other side to change their mind, because it's a deeper-held thing than just opinion.

I nodded by head when I read Vincent's post, and said, "Fuck yeah, exactly." It was like asking whether Wolverine can beat up the Hulk -- they're fictional characters.

Then again, I have lots of friends who think of the "game world" as a real entity, and have a strong opinion about the Wolverine/Hulk thing. I think our brains just work differently.

About Dogs specifically: When I read it , I interpreted the book as clearly saying "There is no God, just people making decisions in His name." That interpretation was so strong in my mind that when I read the thread, I was honestly boggled by the question.

Kuma said: Actually it is necessary. We don't have to worry about the physics of Middle Earth because they are, so far as we can tell, identical to that of our own experience.

The metaphysics of Middle Earth are important, because they differ considerably from our own. An RPG that didn't deal with the magical/mystical aspects of Middle Earth would be doing a disservice to the people who bought it.


As to your first point -- but for exactly the same reason, we don't need to worry about the physics of any game at all, unless that game is specifically set up to explore the ramifications of an alternative system of physics. Which is to say -- yes, you're right, but there's always the implicit assumption that the game setting's physics are the same as the real world's, unless they are specifically discussed.

On your second point, it all depends on the game. If the game is intended to be a lighthearted adventure game in the vein of The Hobbit, then it's not at all necessary to answer the metaphysical questions. Leaving them unanswered is just fine. Similarly, in Dogs, it is also just fine to not answer those questions and leave their answers up to the individual players. But this will be a different game than a game in which those questions are answered. Note that in any case, the answers to these questions must be entered into the players' IISs to have any effect at all on the game. So if the game provides that answer, and the players ignore it, it's just the same as if the game did not provide the answer.


I'd take a step back from that and say that there are some portions of the game's canon which are inherent to everyone's experience of the game, because they're codified in the rules or the character sheet.


I partially agree with this, but in many cases, there are multiple interpretations of the game mechanics. In D&D, clerics' ability to cast spells could either be evidence of the gods' favor, or of the magical powers the clerics receive from the discipline they have been trained in. But the Wizards spells are clearly an indication that magic does work (and their must be some kind of metaphysics there to support that).



I nodded by head when I read Vincent's post, and said, "Fuck yeah, exactly." It was like asking whether Wolverine can beat up the Hulk -- they're fictional characters.

Then again, I have lots of friends who think of the "game world" as a real entity, and have a strong opinion about the Wolverine/Hulk thing. I think our brains just work differently.


I just don't understand this at all. Why do you think it's necessary to think of the 'game world' as a real entity to have an opinion about the Wolverine/Hulk thing? For the reasons I explained above, I think that we can discuss these things while keeping in mind that Wolverine and Hulk are fictional entities -- and, you're right, that just seems so bleedin' obvious to me that I just can't get where you're coming from on this (no offense intended). Can you explain?

Hi Andrew,

This is really interesting. I think people just have an inherent way of thinking about this stuff that's fundamentally one way or the other. Nobody's ever going to convince someone on the other side to change their mind, because it's a deeper-held thing than just opinion.

I once held the opinion that it was of vital importance to work out all the physics of a game- in fact, maybe only 5 or so years ago. Though, as I came to understand the actual process of credibility at the table, and also that sometimes unanswered questions also make better thematic statements, I changed my view.

Though, yeah, rarely do these discussions achieve much- it's usually better to have some real play, at which point the process can be pointed out.

Hey guys,

Lee, I think it's the difference is in how people think about the abstractions. I'm sorry to keep jumping to different examples, but I'm going to talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a sec.

My fiancee and I sit around and watch Buffy a lot; it's our post-work, pre-dinner winding down time. And we'll say things like "Willow is pissed off tonight," or something. But at the same time, we're watching for the writer credit to show up, because then we know with 90% certainty what the Monster of the Week is going to symbolize this episode. If it's Marti or Jane, then it'll be a relationship/alienation thing. If it's Joss, it'll be about the heroes being beaten down and calling on hidden reserves of strength to win at the last minute.

So on one level, we're thinking about the fictional characters as having consistency and plausibility, but at the same time we're thinking that outcomes are determined by what the writer wants to say. We don't think about physical causality, but we do think about narrative causality.

So instead of thinking "How hard will it be for Buffy to kill this vampire?", I'm thinking "What's the statement the writer's making by having a vampire fight, and having it be easy or hard?" If it's hard, it's because Buffy doubts herself.

(Seriously, the only resolution mechanic I could think of that would match the show would be rolling Self-Doubt to stake a vampire. I think that's what I was getting at with the Hulk-Wolverine thing -- outcomes in comic books are painted with a veneer of physical causality, but really they're thematic statements.)

I guess I view the arrangement of abstract symbols into a fictional world as strictly a descriptive technique, and not a prescriptive technique. It's just presentation. Does that make sense? It's kind of hard to explain.

Chris, I used to think in terms of "fictional physics" a few years ago, too. I think it was living with an English major that made me switch, rather than anything specific to gaming. So yeah, it's not inborn.

If I squint, I can look at things that happen in a game in terms of fictional physics. But to be honest, I'm thinking "Okay, the author decided to leave the decision to chance."

This is going to be a massive generalization, but tell me if I'm on the right track. It sounds to me as if you just can't suspend your disbelief. You can't, even for a minute, forget about the artifice of the fiction and take the fiction on its own terms and pretend it was real (all the while knowing that you're just pretending).

FWIW, I think "physical causality" is a misleading term for what you're getting at above. I don't have the perfect answer, but "fictional causality", seems to be something like what you're really getting at.

As for "I guess I view the arrangement of abstract symbols into a fictional world as strictly a descriptive technique, and not a prescriptive technique. It's just presentation. Does that make sense? It's kind of hard to explain." No, that doesn't really make sense, and I think the key is how you are using 'descriptive' and 'prescriptive'. All I can key in on is "it's just presentation." From this, I'm gathering something like: the meat of the show is in the narrative constructs, all else is just color. The various traits and characteristics of vampires, the law of gravity and other physics stuff -- all of it, it's just color. Am I on the right track?

Hi Andrew,

We don't think about physical causality, but we do think about narrative causality.

Exactly. For the original topic- the question of whether God is real or not in DitV is irrelevant to the narrative causuality of the game :)

Chris

I think it's more of a different kind of suspension of disbelief. I probably made it sound like I deconstruct things down to their author-intended meanings every second, and that wouldn't be accurate. I get caught up in the story and go "Ooh! She's in trouble!" and that kind of thing.

All I can key in on is "it's just presentation." From this, I'm gathering something like: the meat of the show is in the narrative constructs, all else is just color. The various traits and characteristics of vampires, the law of gravity and other physics stuff -- all of it, it's just color.

Yeah, that's a good way of putting it. That color's really important -- you can't tell the story without it. But it's there in service of the story.

Taking that back to RPGs in general, when I run a game using a physics-based ruleset, the game always comes out as nearly freeform. The "meat" of the game is characters in different situations, dealing with those situations in ways that say something about the characters. When the rules do get used, it's to say "We want the possibility of being surprised here." It wouldn't really change the actual game much if we flipped a coin instead. I guess that goes along with the idea of the physics, etc. of the gameworld being mostly color.

I'm worried I'm taking this too far off topic. But it's given me a lot of things to think about. Thanks, guys.

Post a Comment