The Fruitful Void and Sorensen's Big Three Questions

edited August 2009 in Story Games
Alright, there has been a lot of buzz about Fruitful Void here on SG lately, and I think I more-or-less have a handle on it. FV is that area of the game that isn't explicitly laid out in the rules but generates a lot of fun, the common example being that there are no "rules" for morality in Dogs in the Vineyard, and yet the gameplay is about morality, so lots of fun and dramatic moral play happens there. It is, in essence, the "opposite" of the White Wolf approach of making Humanity a central gameplay element by putting HUMANITY as a big 1-10 stat right there on the sheet.

So, how does that interrelate with the Big Three Questions? To recap, in my own words:
1) What is your game about? (Not "what is the setting, but what is the theme/what issues do you want to explore?)
2) What in your game makes it about that? (What design choices have you made to bring that element into play, and what mechanics exist to make that a game about what you want to explore?)
3) What behaviours are rewarded? (What happens at the table to make the players want to explore your theme?)

I get the feeling that if Baker had slavishly followed the B3, then Dogs as we know and love it could not be, because it seem like the goal of the B3 is to take the fruitful void and make void-juice out of it. It might be delicious, but it's not an open, explorable space.

However!

That may not be the case. Firstly, there are rules about morality in Dogs. Just not dice mechanics. The town-building rules are a systemic structure in the game-as-it's-writ that make it about morality. Not character morality, but branch morality. Character morality becomes a byproduct.

Does this make sense?

As a half-considered follow-up, and maybe this is fodder for another thread: does system really matter? or more accurately, does system matter as much as some say it does? Dogs is a great game about moral conflicts, but I have heard it transposed into lots of situations, and that's because the kernel element of morality is not mechanically-driven. If, rather than the big issues of morality, Dogs had been a game about loyalty or hatred, or something else, all you have to change is the town-construction rules, and suddenly, you are playing a different game that is not Dogs, but the rules of which (theoretically) do a job that is just as good. So, I guess what I mean is that if you are building a game around the FV, you can centre the void on whatever you want. All you've done is make a game about SOMETHING and then told players what the something is. But if it can be easily drifted to be about something else, then does system still matter?

Comments

  • Keep in mind Vincent's original illustration of the FV (you can find it on his blog). It showed the FV in the center of a whirlpool of the other mechanics. It isn't isn't just the part you leave out, but also the part all the other mechanics will "rotate around" -- if you'll allow the metaphor.

    While Dogs doesn't have a morality rule, it has things like the escalation mechanic that will tend to shove morality into the foreground.
  • Jeffrey, YES.

    To the extent that the Fruitful Void is a useful term it MUST mean that part of your game that is the central focus of the player's attention...guided there by mechanics...but not mechanics that point directly at it and restrict it.

    Too often the term gets used as an after the fact justification for why a game design has holes in it "Those aren't holes...that's the 'Fruitful Void'..."
  • Nicotine Girls is about the cruelty of young friendship, yet the mechanics are about crying and smoking. Those emergent characteristics are where all the pure narrative sexiness comes in.
  • There's a word that shows up in the Three Questions. The word is "game".

    It's easy to think that it refers to the game text. It might be more useful to read it as the play experience:

    1) What is your play experience about?
    2) What in your play experience makes it about that?
    3) What play experience behaviours are rewarded?


    "Play experience" minus "game text" is an interesting equation, and I think it balances to "Fruitful Void."
  • edited August 2009
    All of these answers click with me, but Jarrod's is by far the most cliquey.

    So, as to my second question: is there any reason why we cannot just lift Baker's diagram and slap it down on top of something else (with the necessary concomitant alterations to the six arrows) and then make the game about that instead? And if so, why not write games that way? Why not write a generic game that can get at X, and then give the players guidelines for how to structure their game around their choice of X?
  • You mean like the choice about what Humanity is in Sorcerer?
  • Posted By: RogerThere's a word that shows up in the Three Questions. The word is "game".

    It's easy to think that it refers to the game text. It might be more useful to read it as the play experience:
    No, no it's not. The Big 3 are just about writing and designing games. I don't care how people play games. It's out of my hands at that point.

    As for Dogs in the Vineyard, of course it's about morality (and other stuff) and of course there doesn't need to be a MORALITY! stat so long as shit in the game addresses what the game is about. And it does. So Vincent wins.

    And anyone who slavishly follows anything is a fuck-head. Be it the Big 3 questions, Phish, Veganism or Jesus H. Christ.
  • edited August 2009
    (Removed because it fits better in another thread)
  • Posted By: Jared A. SorensenAs for Dogs in the Vineyard, of course it's about morality (and other stuff) and of course there doesn't need to be a MORALITY! stat so long as shit in the game addresses what the game is about. And it does. So Vincent wins.

    And anyone who slavishly follows anything is a fuck-head. Be it the Big 3 questions, Phish, Veganism or Jesus H. Christ.
    And I suppose that's the definitive word on that. Thanks, Jared!

    That would also seem to be an affirmative to my follow-up. So long as the void is focused on something that the game is purportedly "about", then that is sufficient to satisfy the Big 3.
    Posted By: RogerYou mean like the choice about what Humanity is in Sorcerer?
    Can't say, never played Sorcerer.
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