Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Emotive Content under the Interaction Model

Brand asked how emotional content gets integrated in the Interaction Model. I'm going to address that in a separate essay right now, and perhaps take the results of that and thread it into the longer piece later.

First off, we have to understand what we're talking about and the context in which we're talking about it. Roleplaying can, but doesn't always, engage the players on an emotional level; we care about our characters, we want to see them acheive their goals, we feel their pain, we hate the badguys, we hope for the glorious fall of the Evil Empire. Sometimes we cry; sometimes we get really angry; sometimes we need to cool down. Thing is, that emotion that springs from us players and attaches to 'the game' does so in (at least) three different ways.

As Product, the game creates a story or experience that engages us emotionally. This is nearly identical to the kind of emotional attachment and identification that we experience when reading good books or watching good film. The game here is treated as an artifact (insubstantial, but nonetheless 'real') to which we connect.

As Performance, the game allows the other players to perform for us and dazzle our sensibilities. This is nearly identical to watching ballet, a play, or sports. The game here is a stage on which we appreciate others' skills.

As Process, the game is an activity which the players do together, collaboratively creating the story, world, characters, or what-have-you. This engages us as authoring a book, building a sculpture, or choreographing a dance routine. I'll also reference the "jazz band" metaphor which I think is appropriate here, although my nonexistent musical understanding makes it hard for me to judge. Here the game is a creative social milleu in which we participate.

That there are three ways to engage the emotions of the players makes it difficult to get a good handle on how that happens. One player's spectator appreciation may easily be conflated with another player's enjoyment of the creative process. Because the Interaction Model is primarily procedural, it best addresses the game's emotive content as a Process, but it gives at least a rough sketch of the other two as well.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe Circle of Doom is back again, just for reference.

As far as Product goes, the Interaction Model shows how the roleplaying experience creates a shared understanding of System, Imagined, and Goal. That 'end product' can be appreciated artistically, and I suspect this is the most common emotional attachment we remember in retrospect. We say "that was a good story" or "remember when you got that critical success at just the right moment?" The ways in which we appreciate and care about external things is very complex and very outside the scope of my article here. Whatever our aesthetics are, the shared imaginings of roleplaying may fulfill them, and if they do, we grow emotionally attached to them.

There is also an element of our emotional attachment that arises from the aspects' shared nature. Truth be told, most stories told by roleplaying games would not make good books or films, but we treasure them nonetheless. Part of this is, I feel, because they are shared with friends. The elements of the Imagined that were provided to me by my friend Brand based on elements that were given to him by my wife Laura forever after have their fingerprints all over them. That makes them a little more precious, just as an otherwise unremarkable item can be cherished because it was a gift from a loved one.

As a Performance, the game is composed of players doing things; these things are represented by the Model's interactions. When one player does a masterful job of describing a scene (articulation) and we just sit back and revel in the juicy details, we appreciate it as audience. Similarily, we might appreciate the masterful combination of tactics and advantages to win a critical die roll (fuel). Of course, this can also go the other direction and we get incredibly frustrated when, say, another player invalidates our Goal. This in-the-moment emotional attachment is rarely lasting, but may become embedded in the memory of the whole experience, transforming into that reaction-to-product above. That said, this is where the adrenaline rush and edge-of-your-seat anticipation of gaming reside, when everything hinges on a die roll or the GM describes the unnamable horror gibbering in the closet. I may go so far as to say that this is the emotional 'bang' that most people game for, both in terms of enjoying your friend's skill and in receiving accolades for displaying your own.

I saved the most complicated for last. As a Process, we form emotional connections to roleplaying as something that we do, that we are hip-deep involved in, as an activity where were are needed and need others; where we create stories and characters that we care about and ask questions and forge answers regarding those same things. In lots of ways, this sort of emotional connection is not a part of the Interaction Model simply because a great deal of this has to do with being a human being interacting with other human beings around the table. Roleplaying can, however, heighten that interplay in a variety of ways.

First off, characters may be, either to large or small extent, avatars of the player, able to do or say things which the player is not. Far more than simple wish-fulfillment, roleplaying gives us the opportunity to experience situations -- especially difficult and dangerous situations -- that we would not otherwise be able to experience. The avatar-character may be able to display competence, which may or may not translate to the player's competence at playing the game, but this is, on the whole, tangential to the real meat, which is being in the situation and addressing it as the player likes. Not only does roleplaying allow us to be strong where we are not in real life, roleplaying allows us to be vulnerable in ways which we don't allow ourselves to be away from the table. Roleplaying is a mental space that allows you to find the love of your life many times over; it allows a boy from the suburbs to stand up for duty and honor even if it means self-sacrifice; it lets adolescents explore lots of "grown up" content, like politics, economics, religion, and sexuality.

In addition to the ability to experience things beyond our real-world abilities, roleplaying also affords us a measure of anonymity, even when facing our fellow players across the table. It's not me who is a fanatical follower of Kali, it's just my Euthanatos character. It's not me exploring feminity, it's just my female character. The veneer of disassociation gives us cover for going into territory that we might not be willing to stand up and say we want to experience in detail.

Despite the advantages of anonymity, roleplaying is still a collaborative endeavor, and one in which the players (ideally) feel needed. The furor that arises over niche protection underscores how strongly players want to protect that sense of being valued by others, but it is also expressed in other ways, as well. The vibe that takes over a table when everyone is on the same page and riffing off of eachother, for instance, is when the players' aspects are harmonized close enough that all interactions are consistently on target. Having your contributions to the game turned around and fed back to you does many things at once: you feel like your input is valued, you feel like you are contributing to something greater than just you, and you feel like your fellow players are providing for you by feeding you good material.

Perhaps most powerful is when it becomes clear that another player or players 'get' what you've been going after with your participation in the game. This can be seen when somebody recognizes and incorporates part of your Goal into theirs, and begins Steering in ways complementary to your desires. This is similar to the shared aspect of the Product brand of appreciation, but a little deeper; the sense that you and the other player are thinking the same thing, and that you are thinking the same thing because you performed those interactions just right, gives you a sense of community and commonality, of being unified with someone else if only for one brief moment. Compare it with the simple joy of communicating with someone else in a foreign language for the first time, or successfully transmitting a message through secret code.

All the above is certainly incomplete, and I've overlook vast swaths of the gaming experience. This is what I've got so far, and I'd love to hear any feedback I can get. This is an important part of roleplaying, certainly; this is why we play in the first place.


At 8:27 PM, Blogger Lee Short said...

Wow. 4 comments already an all of them substantive and useful.

It's good to see such positive feedback.


At 10:32 PM, Blogger IceCreamEmperor said...

I think the bit about the 'Performance' element would benefit from some additional discussion about the performer's point of view. Currently, you mostly address how we appreciate each other's performances (similarly to how we appreciate the 'Product'), or how we are pleased by other people appreciating our performance.

However, I think that most people who regularly undertake creative endeavors have an emotional investment in the acts of creation themselves -- the dancer does not experience their art the same way the audience does, and presumably they have a different emotional understanding of the dance. Similarly, while it's true that people are emotionally attached to the feedback they receive for performance, it seems like there's room for talking about the emotional satisfaction/elation/whatever that they get out of the performance itself, in the moment.

In retrospect, it's not clear to me whether this would fit into Performance or Process; the jazz band analogy does seem out of place next to something like 'dance choreography', because the essence of jazz is generally seen to be the performance itself. The parts that are free from choreography.

Similarly, I see a space between Performance and the socially-concentrated comments on Process for enjoyment of one's own imagination, and emotional investment not so much in what you have specifically created, but in your ability to create it.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Bradley "Brand" Robins said...


Good work so far. I must mull, especially in conjunction with the stuff going on over on anyway.

More soon,


At 10:12 AM, Blogger Joshua BishopRoby said...

Yeah, ICE, the roleplayer-as-artist is supposed to fall under Process, except it's roleplayer-as-collaborative-artist. I wasn't as clear as I'd like to be; this article really did not want to translate into words. We can use roleplaying as a medium of expression, and we do so by using roleplaying as a process -- ie, we use the steps in order to acheive our aesthetic goals.


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