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Monday Lab: In the phenomenological thickets

I posted the Phenomenology presentation in January 2018, as my first Adept Play contribution to thinking about this activity of ours. What you're seeing there is actually my second version; I'd posted the first to the Patreon back then, and re-shot it following their comments.

I'm doing the same again, with an eye toward a final (or I guess next) version. A bunch of patrons submitted to watching the January 2018 version all the way through and joining me for a discussion of the ideas. It touches upon some aspects of presentation and purpose, but the real goal was intellectual investigation. Does what I'm saying make any sense? If so, what parts are flawed or seem incomplete? Also, what aspects of role-playing should be included in the concepts?

The discussion displays a unique feature which I hope encourages you to watch it: due to the simply excellent participation and investment among everyone, there's no editing. It stands exactly as shot, merely clipped into 15 minute sections.

Since I asked everyone to review the videos first, this is clearly not a place to jump in. I suggest checking out the linked presentation first, and I'll also mention that I've decided this whole topic should be second in my intended "About role-playing" series (whatever that might be called eventually), after the introductory presentation specifically about the experience of play.

Department: 
Seminar

Comments

LorenzoC's picture

I missed the lab, which is too bad, but I'm glad it seem to have produced an interesting conversation. I had a few notes and there's one thing I cared about introducing as feedback/observation/criticism of the structure of your analysis.

In part two and three (I have timestamps on a notebook but alas it's home) you tackle the building blocks of the experience going over what fundamentally seems to be authorities - background, situation, outcome, narration. I think it's part two, towards the middle. There's one moment that got me thinking. It pertains to situation authority. I think in the video you summarize the idea of someone saying "now where's here, and this is happening, and these people are present" - I may be wrong but at some point you refer to "scene" or "setting up the scene".

Anyways a phrase from Trollbabe jumped to me. Again, no book with me but there's a point where you explain framing and setting up scenes and you say "Someone may request a scene by the river" - or something on that tone. Here's what's bugging me: what happens when one player gets to say where we are and what we are doing, but another player gets to make that happen? I think earlier in the video you say someone may cover the role of instigator.

Now looking at the way people play (at least in my observation) this is so common and prevalent but also I think at the roots of a lot of the tensions around all that muddle involving buzz words like "modern games" and "indie design" etc. If we reduce the idea that the capability for a player to direct what happens next simply by saying "I want to play this" (which is what Trollbabe threw at my face with that apparently innocuous line) to nothing because the situation authority still belongs to another player, or he doesn't get background or outcome authority, so it doesn't matter and so on... it's probably just me but it feels like a very important (even if in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it) moment of agency that hardly ever gets addressed.

And maybe that's simply situation authority, but the thing is (at least in my observation) that when you say "situation authority" people seem to immediately jump to who get to populate the scene and decide the time of the day and the weather and who's there... which is fine and dandy, but there's that little nugget of decisional power that gets understated.

"I request a scene by the river". Am I nuts?

My understanding of the authorities (and of situational authority, in this case), is not that they are uniquely exercised by a single person. The authority can be shared, and the method and degree with which is it shared are mediated by the procedures and instrumentation we have agreed to use to make the game proceed.

The point of separating the authorities is not to say "oh, for each of these things, a different person can do it." Sure, that's the simplest way that you can actually separate them. But you could also say that for each authority, different procedures and/or instrumentation are used to exercise it at the table. At any point during those procedures, a person might make a decision, but it needn't be the same person for each one.

It could be, for example, that in a traditional gm-player split, a player requests a location, the gamemaster confirms it, describes it, and then the players say where each of their characters are and what they are doing. I would consider all of this to be exercise of situational authority. And this is actually a procedure that seems to me to be rather common.

At least, this is my understanding of the problem. Ron, please correct me if you think I'm wrong.

LorenzoC's picture

I think you're flying waaaaay higher than I am in that comment, Claudio. When I look at the Phenomenology videos, I tend to stick to an analysis of "how people do it" rather than "how it's done" or "how it should be done".

My observation is that while these concepts are clear enough from a design perspective, there is a very common (prevalent?) way of playing where the authority to frame, populate, colour and manage a scene rests in the hands of a designated player, but the power to instigate/request/determine the type and context for the scene may be in the hands of any of the players. 
I think underestimating this aspect and the relevance of this moment (I do or say something that will inform how someone else is going to use their authorities) often leads to what is (for me at least) a misunderstanding of what agency is; and so we get to the point that in order to claim that a player has agency, he needs to get backstory or narrative or outcome authority somehow, or the result is that only the player who's running the scene is actually "playing".

I'm simply saying that it may be helpeful to point out that the power to inform the way play will go on by making decisions and handling interactions with the content that someone else's authorities have produced is often taken for granted but extremely relevant to actual agency. If I can say "I request a scene by the river" because you mentioned an old sage and now you have to stage the scene and create content and context for me to play with it, then as long as you respect that input and commit to it I don't think the fact that the background or narrative or even situation authority doesn't rest in my hands as a lack of agency. I exercised a very powerful action. If my power to ask "where we go next?" and give an answer that isn't dismantled through illusionism, then it's an extremely crucial moment of authority.

What I'm asking is: can this exercise of creativity and direction be simply considered to be part of an interaction within the shared administration of situation authority, or it would be helpful to consider it a "moment of play" with its own name, if anything just to help people acknowledge it without failling in what is for me a trap, ie saying that if I can't exercise background or outcome or narrative authority then I have no agency at all?

Ron Edwards's picture

Lorenzo, you're doing fine without me. A few possible-helpful points include:

  • Nothing in the phenomenology series is about rules. Rules are the way(s) in which these phenomena are expressed or used, or in many cases, unfortunately, overlooked and badly-implemented.
  • Never mind what "people" think; this should be about your personal understanding. You have seen the obvious and understandable phenomenon that authority is not exercised in silence. This phenomenon is not only real, it is the default, in practice. I stress that in many, many cases, the expression of authority is limited to a nod or "yeah" which occupies perhaps one second in real time.
  • Authority has nothing to do with overriding or rewriting the rules in action without regard to anyone else's understanding of, or reliance upon, how play is done. Such an act isn't authority within the physiology of play, it's violation of play, effectively murdering it.
  • Agency is vastly larger and more encompassing than Authority. Agency means that how you - anyone - contributes to the medium in the moment is valued and honored by everyone else. The "how" may or may not include authority in the specific sense that I've assigned it.

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