Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Social Agenda

The Social Mode: Zilchplay, Griefers, and more...

AKA GNS Post #2

Something that comes up a lot in Forge discourse is people thinking that maybe there is a “fourth mode” in addition to Gamism, Narrativism, and Simulationism. Lots of proposals get thrown around, with varying degrees of theoretical usefulness. Here are some that I can think of off the top of my head:

  1. Zilchplay – a style of play which is neutral with respect to the other CAs.
  2. Griefer/Anti-play – where the primary goal is to ruin other people's fun
  3. Social play – where the primary goal is some sort of social interaction between the players, with the game as a medium for that.
  4. Introspection play – where the game is a vehicle for psychological development.
  5. Humor – where the game is a vehicle for making each other laugh like hyenas.

I have another essay in me which is all about how the culture of the Forge reacts to these proposals, and how I think that is indicative of a degree of conservatism. But that's not for today.

For today, I want to talk about the first three, because I think that they all exist, and I think that they are all indicative of the same thing.

Let's talk about Zilchplay first.

The classic Zilchplayer's lament is “I can enjoy playing anything!” Essentially, the argument is that there is a form of play which can be enjoyed regardless of any creative agenda at work, and that the Zilchplayers are doing just this.

I believe them.

Now let's talk about griefers

In terms of grief players, well, we don't have anyone at the Forge claiming to be a grief player, so I can only talk about how they are discussed by others, not how the represent themselves. A grief player (AKA an obstructionist) is someone who is getting their joy out of damaging other people's play – if another player is having less fun, the griefer is having more fun.

I certainly believe that such players exist.

The “social mode” has often been expressed, at least in my head, as “I want to score with the cute chick who play the Elven Ranger.” The point is, the actions taken in game are about furthering, changing, manipulating or destroying social relations between the players themselves, pretty much regardless of what goes on in terms of the shared imagined space.

I have seen this a lot.

The last bit (the part about “regardless of what goes on...”) is really key, I think.

You see, Big Model Theory, particularly the Creative Agenda bit of it and the primacy thereof, is built on the fundamental premise that the main enjoyment that people get out of playing a role-playing game has to do with the game itself – the shared imagined space, what happens in it, and how that is handled socially between the players. Essentially, there is this implicit statement that, when a role-playing game is being played, it is the most important thing going on for the participants in terms of their fun.

This is not necessarily true. One can certainly imagine a player who simply wants to get together with his friends. Since his friends want to play a role-playing game, he'll play it with them, but he's really just interested in the company of his friends. He plays the role-playing game as a form of hanging out, and has no attachment to what happens in the game at all. We all can imagine this guy.

Let me be more specific: We all know this guy. We have all gamed with this guy.
(In my case, a girl, but potato/potato.)

You could, if you wanted to, say that this guy had a CA, and that it was to just play and hang out with friends. But, I think, you'd be wrong to do so. I think that it is more correct to say that this guy doesn't have a creative agenda at all. He really doesn't have anywhere he wants the game to go. He has a social agenda, which is to hang out with friends, but he doesn't really give a fug where the game goes.

Or, if you want to be a stickler for Big Model structure, he does have a creative agenda, but he is simply adopting the creative agenda of the rest of the group. (In this case, in a remarkably passive manner.)

Now let's consider the Zilchplayer (some may say that the zilchplayer is exactly the guy described above, but bear with me). He is interested in playing a role-playing game, so he has a CA, right? Not necessarily. The simple act of playing a role-playing game is, for him, so awesome that he does't really care about the rest. He is essentially doing the same thing that the previous guy was doing, but he is satisfied not by the presence of friends, but by the presence of the role-playing activity. Any role-playing activity.

My argument is such – there are many sorts of players who are satisfied by social conditions, without regard to the contents of the game. These players might be said to have a “social agenda,” to match a “creative agenda” or a “technical agenda.” The basic, assumed social agenda of Forge theory is “I have fun with the game / everyone has fun with the game,” which is a reasonable basic assumption, but not necessarily true in every case.

And, in some cases, social agenda takes priority of creative agenda – the creative agenda is essentially changed and adjusted to whatever, given the other player's and their own preferences, will support the social agenda. These are not creative agenda because they are not about creativity or the creative act of a role-playing game at all. The are agenda for play without being creative agenda.

This can happen in positive ways, such as the player who just wants everyone to have fun, regardless of what they are doing. This can happen in neutral ways, such as the guy who wants to impress his girlfriend or the player who just wants to play, regardless. This can happen in negative ways, when role-playing is a tool for manipulating others or where the goal is to make other people upset and angry.

It is a fascinating, complicated topic, which I'd love to talk about more.

And I'm convinced that it is not a new form of creative agenda at all, but an entirely different sort of animal.


Blogger Ben said...

I had a big forge-style list of links, but then I lost it in a bone-headed move. Will repost it once I'm done kicking myself.

5:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oooh... I really, really like the suggestion that there are actually multiple complementary (or not) Agendas at work. You have a Creative Agenda and a Social Agenda (and maybe a bunch of other Agendas). And (for example) the Social Player is someone who's Social Agenda trumps his Creative Agenda. Is that what you're saying?

If so, I think it's worth pointing out that all social activities will, by their nature, have a social agenda. So I'm not sure that it is to our benefit to discuss different types of social agendas in the same way that it is valuable to discuss different creative agendas. I'm sort of thinking that social agenda falls outside of the scope of RPGs other than the fact that we really need to acknowledge that it's out there and that it can enhance or impede play.

Oh, and on Zilchplay. If it's Creative Agenda-neutral, what is it that the Zilchplayer finds so fun? Have we identified that thing yet?



8:18 AM  
Blogger Chris Goodwin said...

Ben, have you read this thread? "This may be like the fun of madly coloring outside the lines."

1:08 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Chris --

I can't exactly see the relationship between the posts. James' experience seems to be pretty clearly in the "I / everyone has fun playing the game" box, which is pretty much standard Forge agenda stuff. Yeah, they're using the ordinary kid game rules of bribery and threat instead of the game rules, but I'm not convinced that they aren't enjoying the game itself.


8:32 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Thomas -- I'm saying it only really makes sense to talk about Creative Agenda in the context of "playing the game to have fun (with others.)" Any other social agenda throws CA theory for a loop.

As for the Zilchplayer -- well, I covered it above. But, in truth, it is probably more complicated. I sincerely doubt all the people talking about "zilchplay" have even close to the same experiences with it.


8:34 PM  

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