Designing interactions between players

  • 4 Replies
Designing interactions between players
« on: January 16, 2011, 05:39:33 PM »
To my mind, the most exciting and innovative thing about Apocalypse World is the fact that the mechanics are conciously designed to facilitate back-and-forth dialogue between players and GM.

I think that resolution, in terms of what a resolution system resolves and how that affects the fiction that is generated in play is reasonably well understood now. It's still not well implemented in a lot of designs, but the theory exists to understand and analyse it.

I think an emerging field of exciting developments in theory and design is understanding how systems shape the interactions between players. Understanding the interface between rules and people, how existing dynamics shape play, how the physical limitations of human beings (it's hard to talk and listen at the same time) constrain your possible ways of interacting with the game, leveraging existing forms of dialogue and styles of interaction, using ritual to push boundaries of acceptable communication, are all relatively unexplored.

Are there existing games that do this well? AW, obviously. S/lay w/ Me? Others?

There are a number of games that do this very badly, in my opinion, in terms of them asking you to interact in ways that are very difficult, require enormous attention or engagement, or that are overly formalistic and constraining (thus being exhausting to play).

Many more games simply leave a lot of this unstated. The designer clearly has an imagined rythm of communication, a way that people interact when they play the game, but this isn't communicated by the text or encouraged by the mechanics.

Are there some known rythms of communication other than AW's back-and forth? It seems like an obvious one because it mimics the turn-taking of natural conversation. What other styles are there?

Re: Designing interactions between players
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2011, 07:35:21 PM »
Simon, that's a really interesting point! At first blush, all I can think about is that a lot of games have approached this notion with narration rights type rules, like the Mountain Witch, but I think it's a little different to establish what players get to say stuff about than it is to say what the baseline order/type of interaction is. Ummm, Mouse Guard's GM and player turns specify to a degree the kinds of interactions and level of control of the conversation to be had during them, and InSpectre's confessionals invite a certain type of grabbing the reins of conversation.

I also have gotten the impression that certain games do this, but I'm not familiar with them enough to say so (like Breaking the Ice, maybe? Polaris? or is that in the 'overly formal' category you mentioned?).

Oh! Archipelago lays out pretty clearly who gets the main say in talking over the course of scenes. Or am I veering too far away from what you're talking about and into 'authority over details of the fiction' space?

Re: Designing interactions between players
« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2011, 03:27:29 PM »
I've not played Archipelago, but I suspect you're right that it has some interesting elements regarding this.

You're right that I'm not strictly talking about authorities/responsibilities for narration, so much as the rythm of interactions in play; not what people get to say, but when they get to say it. The two are very closely linked though.

Can you talk more about Mouse Guard? I've not played it.

Breaking the Ice is kind of loose in structuring interactions between the players. It's pretty much up to the players to work out their own rythm and decide who gets to say what when. Polaris I would describe as "overly formalistic", bearing in mind that I've not played it and it's maybe much better than I imagine.

Re: Designing interactions between players
« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2011, 08:36:03 PM »
Yeah, I didn't figure you meant "narration authority", but as I started trying to address what you *were* talking about, I realized that no examples came directly to mind, so I tried to get my brain going by coming at it sideways-like.

At any rate, I haven't yet played Mouse Guard either, just given a read through, but if my understanding of the rules and some of the actual play reports I've read is correct, then basically a session has a "GM's Turn" and a "Players' Turn". The GM's turn is the actual mission, and the dialogue is structured pretty traditionally with the GM setting scenes, describing dangers and challenges, and asking the players what they do and otherwise prompting them as necessary.

The Players' Turn, on the other hand, is the sort of end of session/between mission downtime. The players are explicitly instructed to describe their own undertakings to heal, train, and other "taking care of business" actions. The number of actions you get is affected by checks you earned during the mission and goes round robin between the players. In this phase, the players frame scenes (with some help from the GM if they want it) describe what they're up to, and call on the GM to oppose any tests they make for things like training. Again, this is just from my remembering what I've read through once, my rulebook is at home in another state.

I also haven't played Archipelago yet, but it's pretty exciting to me. Thinking about it some more, I believe that even more significant to the "flow of conversation" thing you're talking about than the round robin scene framing might be the ritual phrases. If you're not familiar, they're things like "That might not be so easy. . .", "Try another way", and a few others. What it seems like they do (anybody more familiar with the game, please correct any deficiencies I put forth) is to give specific permission to do things that people collaborating creatively will do - interrupt to offer better versions, ask for more detail on something that seems cool or unclear, and so forth. I feel like that will have a more subtle but important impact on the way the player to player interactions go than the more "story significant" rules that have each player take turns framing a scene and controlling the extras.

Re: Designing interactions between players
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2011, 07:09:14 AM »
I liked the advice for the AW GM to ask certain types of questions.. Sure: "what do you do?"... but what about "how do you feel?" and "what do you think?"  Cant wait to ask some players that, Im sure I will get some double takes.