Shining Dodecahedron

One geek's views on role-playing and games in general.

This place is all about discussing paper-and-pencil roleplaying games. I'm Jay, and I run this joint, but that doesn't make me smarter than you. This will all work best if I say things, and you say what you think about them, lather, rinse, repeat. With luck we can all understand the hobby a little better. If you have a topic that you would like me to start a thread about, post a comment here. If you've got something to say about characters (my ongoing topic du jour), post a comment here.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Starting to Talk About Context

I've been promising an essay about context, as I define it pertaining to RPGs. It's turning out to be a really big topic. So, instead of writing a huge manifesto, I'm going to break it into chunks. I think that will help in getting feedback and opinions, too. Here's the first bit:

What is Context?
Context, as I am defining it in terms of role-playing games, is something that helps a player contribute to the collaborative story being told. Context is like a handle to a tool that the player uses to play the game. In recent weeks, it is becoming clear to me that things that provide context can also be called player resources, and that may be a better term in the long run.

To understand where I am coming from here, you need to understand the concept of exploration as defined in the Forge's Provisional Glossary. If you aren't familiar, go do some research there until you've got it. It's one of the easier and less contentious parts of the Big Model, so don't be intimidated.

A player resource can be anything that helps with imagination. It can be something written down on a character sheet, a rule in a book, the way the resolution mechanics interact, a story that is or is not directly related to the game, a movie, another game, anything. For my purposes, let's keep our discussion of player resources to things that are known and predictable to a published game. That is, I'm talking about player resources that are under your control as a game designer.

A player resource can provide context to exploration. Context might be thought of as a compass, which gives direction and aids in exploration--it's not a map: you still need to fill in the creative details, but it helps you do so productively. Any given resource can contribute to none, some, or all of the elements of exploration (character, setting, situation, system, and color). Forthcoming posts will deal with the various types of context that can be provided.

My hope for this discussion is that we will gain a better understanding of how the rules and books we write as game designers help (or don't help) people contribute to the game. And more importantly, what types of things we can write to provide specific types of context.

For this post's comments, please limit yourself to discussion about my definition of context and player resources. We'll get into the nitty gritty soon enough.

9 Comments:

Blogger Stephen W. said...

It took a little reading to understand where you were going with this, but I think I get it after coming up with a few metaphors for myself. Context can be thought of as the parameters within which an action occurs, like meta information on a web page or a native programming environment (can you tell I do web development for a living?). Context limits and qualifies actions.

For some reason, I am reminded of my old supervisor, who told me, "People who think they're creative break the box. People who really are creative can work within the box." I suppose, then, a measure of good roleplaying can be determined by whether or not a player feels he/she has to break the context of the game to have fun. Just a thought.

This is a wonderful website. I've put a link back to here on my new blog, the Den of Dice and Drama.

Monday, June 06, 2005 4:55:00 PM  
Blogger John Kim said...

Well, the typical problem with definition is -- how do you distinguish between context and exploration itself? i.e. If I write something down, am I exploring or am I creating context?

Offhand, I would say that past exploration itself forms the context for present exploration. So in a typical tabletop game context is inclusive of (1) published rulebooks; (2) written notes and character sheets; (3) past face to face sessions.

Monday, June 06, 2005 5:34:00 PM  
Blogger Jay Loomis said...

Stephen--I think you're getting it. To me, anything that guides how I portray a character in the game and helps the group agree upon and understand the shared imagined space provides context.

I think my definitions will be made more clear when I start plopping out examples.

Monday, June 06, 2005 5:36:00 PM  
Blogger Jay Loomis said...

John -- Yes! By all means, everything that happens in the shared imagined space provides context for everything that follows.
For the purpose of my next several posts about context, however, I'm limiting the scope to the contextual elements that are provided by the game designer to players. There's plenty to talk about within that range before we open up the cans of worms that are contextual expectations based on the past sessions.

Monday, June 06, 2005 5:40:00 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Jay --

This is really fascinating stuff. I can't wait to see where you are going with it.

My first reaction was to go "no, wait, let's talk about the other context, external to the game text!" Then I realized that was silliness, to expect you to talk about something that you weren't as interested in, so I wrote about it on my own blog.

yrs--
--Ben

Thursday, June 09, 2005 1:42:00 PM  
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