2005-09-02 : Meg on Ritual

Meg's posted the first of her essays: Ritual and Gaming/Game Design. Topical!

I say "the first of" out of hope. She's got some important things to say for which this piece is groundwork. I'm anxious for her to write about "nobody gets hurt" vs. "I will not abandon you," especially.

There's a branch of RPG design right now that's all about pushing your buttons. As we get better at it, we need to figure out how to do it - not safely, but together and strong. We need structures about how to trust, confront and grow, not just about how to provoke.

1. On 2005-09-02, Troy_Costisick said:


I liked what she had to say too, Vincent.  When you say, "trust, confront, grow" are you talking about Values Oriented RPG's?  If you peruse the Indie-Design forum on the Forge you'll see a lot of games grappling with the issues of virtue and vice, including my own design I am getting ready to post about.

I'm seeing a trend towards those sorts of ideals as design elements, and am very interested to hear your thoughts about how virtue, vice, and values can/should be treated in RPG's. IF, that is, what you were speaking about.  :)




2. On 2005-09-02, xenopulse said:

It's an excellent article.

In fact, it has me thinking that I'd include an opening/closing aspect even in a Gamist game. In P/E, I wrote a bunch about the fact that the game is competitive and what that means for how the players interact in the game v. outside of it, but I didn't give opening/closing moments where that starts and ends.

I know that the focus here is on thematic games, but I think all play styles would benefit from a point at which we say, "Now we start and become mindfully focused on the game, and special rules apply to how we deal with each other."


3. On 2005-09-02, Meguey said:

Good point, xenopulse. In the thread at the Forge, someone mentions football games and other 'regular things' as containing ritual. I was reminded of the archtypical image of the football players gathered in a pre-game prayer that does exactly what opening Containment is meant to do: drive home to the body and mind that 'now we begin, in time-out-of-time'.


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This makes...
XP go "Right on."

4. On 2005-09-02, La Ludisto / Josh BishopRoby said:

One thing I think will help reinforce containment would be to make the containment have a specific game effect—'Next Time On...' in PTA is a prime example.  It's a definate end-point, and simultaneously closes the ritualspace and excites the players for what happens next ritualspace.


5. On 2005-09-02, Brand_Robins said:

That was an excellent article. It falls in line with much of what I've been thinking about game and ritual space for sometime now, but still let me see one of the big flaws in the way that I've been using ritual space—I have all the startup, focus containment, work and return but often miss on the release. I do very well front and center, but often let the containment/space fall apart at the end by not ritually ending the game with as much conciousness of what I'm doing as when I started. As a result the containment and end of containment post-game is often less than regular.

This makes me agree with Josh, which I'm normally opposed to doing on moral grounds. Games that have specific effects for ending the containment, as well as starting it, are a good idea.


6. On 2005-09-03, Marco said:

As someone who is interested in psychodrama, I think the dichotomy of *safe* vs. *strong* is perhaps a false one. One of the tenants of psychodrama (for real therapeutic deeply felt roleplay) is that it has to be, in some ways, 'safe' to be useful (i.e. people will not continue with it if they are brutalized without some sense of closure and some sense of communal safty).

I think the kind of 'safe' you are *talking* about is more like "no one really gets *real*—so it's safe" but in more useful terms, for this to work (something I am, in fact, very interested in) there needs to be certain things done to ensure that when someone is really the hell real in their roleplaying experience it isn't a justifiable excuse for dumping on other people.

I believe a lot of exciting work could be done in this area. I, myself, am interested in seeing it done, working on it, and experiencing it.

I think what the process *needs* is more of the right kind of safty.



7. On 2005-09-03, Lisa Padol said:

We also need a recognition that not everyone wants to play out on the edge, and that that's all right.

I've noticed a couple of ritual elements that are not necessarily obvious when I game: Set up and clean up.

Setting up the gaming space, even when "all" that entails is cleaning up the table and putting out the right number of chairs is ritual preparation of the game space.

A lot of people talking about grounding the energy, and formally ending the ritual. If folks stick around while I do a lot of the clean up, it helps, even if they're talking and I'm putting things away. After I run a session, there's a sort of jittery, bouncing-off-walls feeling. Cleaning and going out for dinner can help me settle down.



8. On 2005-09-05, Ninja Monkey J said:

I am poopz0rd, but I will comment momentarily!

Meg, I'd like to see some of this deliberately in action, particularly when playing a game of Dogs or Under the Bed. When entering dangerous territory. I've been thinking a lot about how to have a serious, searching, honest time in a game with my friends, and some sort of barrier would probably help.

Lisa, those who want to play it safe only want to play where they know they will win. It's a no-growth area. My guess is, you wind up on that uncomfortable edge often enough, but need rules and ritual structure to make it safe.

Marco, I agree that the word "safe" here is too ambiguous. What Vincent's talking about, I think, is having a game that can hurt you, but demands that your friends, the rules, and the ritual support your growth from the experience. Where it's a non-sequitur to let your friend twist in the wind when they've just confronted something big, but where you were pushed by rules and friends to wind up with the noose around your neck.

I submit that what Lisa is saying with her first sentence is a fear of being left twisting, which is being conflated with finding yourself there on the gallows. When you know who and where your friends are, you're a lot safer than when you all mutually fear.


9. On 2005-09-06, Marco said:


I think "safe" is seen as a bad thing in some circles—games that are "not safe" are, I think, in a subtle (or not so subtle) way being praised for it. I don't believe this is a correct assessment. One can have a very honest game that is uncomfortable or even painful (in a good way) and provides therapeutic introspection. However, there is a difference between saying that something is 'difficult' and saying that something is 'safe.'

If the result of games not being safe is that people who come to the game looking for an intense, psychologically real experience get is brutalized by rules that encourage player-vs-player conflict in a way that leaves them without satifactory resolution or provides no checks on what one player introduces into a space where people who've shown up are willing to be vulnerable. If a game's play does this regularly then, IMO, it fails.

Healthy people don't come back for that over and over. If you are going to "be real" or engage in the sort of deeply felt, meaningful activity that these games are trying to deliver more than once then there needs to be a way to ensure that this is a valuable activity for someone other than the "winner."

I don't see that right now and I don't, outside of Vincent's post (which I think is insightful and valuable), see people calling for that (although I think, from what I know of Polaris, it has the strong potential to have that sort safety in it).

Faling that, though, I'm reminded that "evil character D&D" which offers reliable descent into psychological darkness (and player-vs-player conflict): it isn't a mode of play I'd praise especially, even if someone does find exploring that part of themselves valuable in some way.



10. On 2005-09-06, Ninja Monkey J said:

Marco, we're totally on the same page. Under The Bed and Dogs in the Vineyard both tread into difficult territory and I don't know - I really don't know - if they're 'safe' by your (good and important) definition.

Meg, V.? What say y'all?


11. On 2005-09-06, Mythusmage said:

It might be an interesting conversation, but I wouldn't know because the forum software sucks. Whoever coded it apparently acted under the assumption that on this planet there is only one computer platform and one operating system. Whole swatches of text do not show up. Other times the text is partially or completely obscured.

People, if you want folks to read your stuff over at the forge, swallow your computer geek pride and switch over either to EZBoard, PHPBoard or VBulletin. The current forum software doesn't work.


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This makes...
Chris go "Funny"*
jmneff go "I have no problems with the software."*
NinJ go "Mutli-platformedly fine for me."*

*click in for more

12. On 2005-09-06, Mythusmage said:

BTW, since I couldn't read Meg's post at The Forge I reposted it here. I did this so I and others in my circumstances could read it and (I hope) comment on it. I also think it can use a larger audience.

BTW, I use PHPBulletin. So if you want to drop by my spot and discuss RPG theory etc. you're welcome to do so.


13. On 2005-09-06, Vincent said:

Marco: yes, yes of course.

I think "safe" is not precise enough a word. Now, I'm talking only about provocative rpgs here; lots and lots of rpgs are safe on account of not being provocative. But among provocative games, within "safe" I see both "nobody gets hurt" and "nobody gets left behind" (or "I will not abandon you"). Two whole different kinds of safe, both awesome.

Polaris is a shining example of "nobody gets hurt." We have no shining examples of "nobody gets left behind."

As we get better and better at making provocative games, we need to sort this stuff out. It may be that "nobody gets left behind" isn't something we can design into our games, in the way that "nobody gets hurt" is. That would make me sad; I'm dedicated to a "people get hurt, but not abandoned" kind of safety.

Ron's likened it to sparring in a martial art. "I'll bloody your nose if I can, but we're in it together."


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This makes...
MB go "Yes."*
BL go "Huh?"
MB go "Really Huh?"*
Nev go "Agreed"*

*click in for more

14. On 2005-09-06, Ninja Monkey J said:

V., this is what I was talking about the other day. The object of the game is to wind up bloodied and friendly - to have scars to prove your friendship.


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This makes...
VB go "ooh, nice html trick!"*
NinJ go "Yeah, I love that. It keeps you from getting derailed on TEH INTARWEBS."

*click in for more

15. On 2005-09-06, Meguey said:

"I think the kind of 'safe' you are *talking* about is more like "no one really gets *real*—so it's safe"

I don't think so. The 'safe' I'm talking about is *specifically* the kind that makes it ok for people to be very 'real' in their gaming, handle messy internal personal issues and baggage, and come out with some insight. If I'm playing a character who is dealing with coming to terms with the alcoholism in hir home growing up, and I have clear Intent to push myself in this character, and can (to at least some extent) count on the game and my fellow players to support that push, great, and that's my goal.

That's a different sort of thing than if I'm in a session with a trained therapist and I'm role-playing a confrontation with my alcoholic stepfather. While I completely accept the notion of role-playing as a sort of group therapy, I also cannot be clear enough that your RPG group is probably not generally the best place attempt to process *all* your trauma. The average person just doesn't have the skills to do that. Plus, isn't part of the point of role-playing games to be fun/good for the group, and not just 'all about me'?

"There needs to be certain things done to ensure that when someone is really the hell real in their role-playing experience it isn't a justifiable excuse for dumping on other people."

Exactly. I think having clear support of the 'I will not abandon you' type is part of that. What I mean by 'I will not abandon you' is, briefly and not completely, that there is system support, mechanical support, and interpersonal support built into the game so as to allow people to go deep in safety, without damaging others. I'm working on a more complete explanation right now.


16. On 2005-09-06, Marco said:

Right. So when people say that a game is "not safe" then it is *not* the kind of game where "it [is] ok for people to be very 'real' in their gaming, handle messy internal personal issues and baggage, and come out with some insight."

See, people have been saying that Dogs is "not safe" and meaning it in a good way. I think that's a mistake—it's a mistake about what "not safe" really means in that context. The sparring example is bad too, IMO.

RPGs are *not* therapy—however, the lesson we can learn from therapy is that in order to get real one must be vulnerable. I don't have any inclination to get vulnerable with someone who *wants* to hurt me (and will feel good about having hurt me) even if the injury is minor.

I get my nose bloodied a lot (I train tactically). There are guys who I think really *do* want to hurt me—and feel good about themselves when they manage it. I don't like those guys or see anything redeeming about it.

I do not think confrontation and provocation is a good way to get people to have the kind of experience that pushes your buttons and is powerful and healthy. I think it's a way for people who enjoy pushing other people's buttons to engage in that arena just like the guy who, when we spar, decides he actually wants to leave me with a mark.

Psychodrama is powerful, strong, and no one gets abandoned. It has all the positive aspects (minus RPG-exploration and story) that people want here and there's no aspect of PvP at all. I think that realization alone should give some pause to the idea that sparring is a good metaphore to reaching those goals.



17. On 2005-09-06, Vincent said:

Okay, forget sparring, but I'm not talking about playing with people who want to hurt you.

Say there's a group playing Dogs and the town goes really south and one of the players starts freaking out. Nobody's pushing anybody's buttons on purpose, but the subject matter is real and urgent and provocative and one of the players is really unhappy.

The problem with Dogs, as I see it, is not that this situation can arise. The problem with Dogs is that when this circumstance arises, it falls upon each player's instincts and individual skills to deal with it. How does the player who's freaking out see the game through to the end? How do the others help? On this, the text is silent.


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BR go "Bingo"

18. On 2005-09-06, Marco said:

I agree completely. On all counts. I will note that those situations (real, urgent, and provocative) come up all the time in games that I suspect are considered "safe" here as well—but that's besides the point: yes, when someone gets hurt, what do you do?

Well, in therapy there are techniques that do, in fact, work on those situations. They take some skill, usually take some authority, and are never guaranteed.

However, one thing that often happens is that when participant A jumps on (bloodies the nose of) participant B, then A is accountable for his or her actions. Not *reprimanded* for them—not *prevented* from doing it (it's been done)—but *accountable* for them (which, IME, is a complex thing and not easily summed up).

However, in that environment, what you get is something that is antithetical to the PvP spirit that people have attributed to these "not safe" games.



19. On 2005-09-06, Vincent said:

Please, "the PvP spirit that people have attributed to these 'not safe' games" - I have no idea what you're talking about. PvP spirit? Which people? Attributed when? Please explain.

Oh wait, maybe this...

Marco, here's (A), which is yours:

(A) "I think it's a way for people who enjoy pushing other people's buttons to engage in that arena just like the guy who, when we spar, decides he actually wants to leave me with a mark."

Here are (B) and (C), which are mine:

(B) "I want to know your characters inside and out, but not so that I can do them justice - so that I can inflict upon them the exact right, very worst grief.

The player and the GM have the same goal wrt the character, which is to make the character shine. The player approaches it by learning what makes the character tick and playing it fully; the GM approaches it by learning what makes the character tick and playing fully against it. Between the two of us, the character comes to life."
from Why would anybody want to GM?


(C) "When you underwrite someone else's chracter, you're saying that you think the character's cool and interesting, and that you want to see what she's made of. It's not simply that you're a fan of the character; it's that you're committed to the character and you want to take an active hand in showing us just how cool she is.

("Showing just how cool" is code. It's code for "trying to break her in public." You help show us how cool she is by challenging her past her endurance. This is not a happy love-fest kind of showing just how cool.)"
from Underwriting in my Ars Magica Knockoff thread

So you've said "PvP" a couple of times and I don't know where you're getting it; do you see my (B) and (C) as PvP? I personally see a huge difference between those of mine and your (A), do you?

(I'm not doing the rhetorical-sarcastic internet bullshit thing here, in case anybody reads it that way. I'm asking where's our common ground.)


20. On 2005-09-06, Marco said:

Erm, no—I wasn't thinking about you. Some stuff Tony has said: (of Capes "The game is, deliberately, "Step on another players toes, then resolve it with mechanics."")

And of Dogs: "As you said, you called him a bully to his face, just for using the system as it was meant to be used." (referent directly to players getting disturbed or stepped on).

Additionally Ron's comments about how it's an IIEE thing (which, IMO, is about participant A objecting to Participant B and either being able to do something about it or not—but I might be misreading him there).

I think your B and C are our common ground and when you are playing with someone who has an A-attitude you got problems. But I think that people with A-attitudes are seeing these games and going "great, I dig this!"

And the game may be great for it—but if a game is meant to be powerful, deeply felt, and real, then it isn't a place for getting stepped on or bullied.



21. On 2005-09-06, Marco said:

To directly answer your question (which I didn't and might be confusing): Yes—I do see a huge difference.

The sparring analogy contributed to my (A) POV. Your (B) and (C) do not.



22. On 2005-09-06, Vincent said:


Awesome! I think the question that remains is: How? Now what?

Side point: Ron's IIEE comments are about participant A objecting to participant B's input and what can she do about it - not whether she can. In Polaris, she can edit it until she doesn't object to it anymore, essentially; she can do something about it before it's real in the game. In Dogs, it's already real, and then she can do something about it. That's totally IIEE, and that's where Polaris' "nobody gets hurt" vs. Dogs' "sometimes somebody gets hurt" lives.

Just to say it again, so nobody thinks I'm crowing:

If you take Dogs to the "somebody gets hurt" place, the game will let you down. Only go there if you're already skilled and with people you've already tested. This is not to Dogs' credit.

On the other hand, it's to Polaris' great credit that you could have, oh for instance, cannibalistic incest-rape in the game without anybody getting hurt. The game seeks out the very darkest, very scariest things within your boundaries.


23. On 2005-09-06, Marco said:

Well, as to Now What, I think there are a few places to start. Some are easier. Some are very complex:

EASY (easier)
1. Assign somone the ability to moderate/prevent bullying. You know it when you see it. Stop it.

2. Set expectations up front to prevent unwanted PvP attitudes. Be as clear as possible about that.

3. Use activities or rituals that are shared by the participants and help make the space "safe." This may include no discussion of the game outside of the game with other people. It can also enforce a sense of community.

MEDIUM (maybe this can work)
1. Get feedback on what the player is looking for in the game and play to that when trying to "break the character." I have brought conflicts into games that were very uncomforable for me (which is why I reject the idea that some "games" are safe and some aren't)—when they were hilighted in play by a GM who understood what was going on, it was both uncomfortable and exhilirating.

If someone had ambushed me with those same conflicts, it wouldn't have been appreciated.

2. Have a shutdown mechanism that is understood and, most importantly, honored by everyone involved. And I mean honored in two senses—1. is followed and 2. is that the person who uses it is not reproved for doing so. In combatives, no one thinks you're 'less of a man' for tapping out. The same thing needs to be true in the game-space.

HARD (maybe impossible without accredited trained players)
1. Hold people accountable for what they bring into the game. In therapy, when someone is confrontational, the focus can shift to that person and find out what's going on with them. This is valuable for everyone involved and creates an atmosphere where, if I am the person who feels attacked, the moderator will make sure that only some kinds of dialogs (therapeutic ones) will take place.

The ability of someone (the therapist or moderator) to do that makes sure that no one becomes a shooting-gallery target. It is possible to do this with a minimum of approbation and judgemnt. It is *very* difficult in practice to do that. In anything resembling a standard RPG with standard players, I think it is nearly impossible.



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This reminds...
BR of I think this needs to be integrated with the 3 rules Vincent talked about here

This makes...
JBR go "You Do Not Talk About Fight Club"*
James go "I don't think he means Fight Club"*
MB go "Maybe"*

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24. On 2005-09-06, Meguey said:

Marco, your Easy points 2 and 3, and all your Medium points are right in line with what I'm driving at in the essay. I think even having game players and designers *ask the questions* raised here will drive games towards suppporting 'real and deal' play in psycologically safe space while keeping people from getting stomped on.


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BR go "Asking is a good place to start, for sure."*

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25. On 2005-10-06, Nev (aka Dave.. or is it the other way 'round?) said:

Great article and great thread.

I was going to post the link to this thread:

but then I realized it was Marco's thread and you guys are probably already all familiar with it.

Specifically from that thread, I like the "Brems" and "Kutt" examples from the Scandanavian LARP community. Especially, I like the idea of actually using those Scandanavian words, because the foreignness lends them ritual weight in a sense that "Woah" or "Stop" would not.

I don't want to drift or hijack or whatever, and I don't feel fully competent to add more to this thread, so I'm gonna stop here and sit back and watch some more. But you guys rock on.


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