Article on Player Motives

edited June 2011 in Story Games
I wrote an article for this year's WyrdCon academic book, and it just got published online.
http://wyrdcon.com/2011/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/100-copies-AcademicBook.pdf

My article is called "Analyzing Player Motives to Inform LARP Design". In it I identify 16 player motives that can be observed through indicative behaviors and offer suggestions about how to satisfy those motives.

A big part of the goal is to get more granular and detailed than the 3-4 play styles that are generally discussed in design theory. I don't find them nearly specific enough to be useful, especially when designing for large groups with mixed interests.

As a quick reference, this is the list of motives I presented, though I ask that those interested in giving feedback please take the time to read through the article rather than only responding to this list and to the discussion in the thread.

1. Audience - Experience a satisfying narrative.
2. Catharsis - Experience emotions through the character.
3. Comprehension - Figure things out. Solve problems and puzzles.
4. Competition - Win at something, or at least enjoy the act of competing.
5. Crafting - Create non-ephemeral things (costumes, props, documents, etc.).
6. Education – Take away new knowledge or understanding as a player.
7. Embodiment –Make decisions based on character background, knowledge, and motivation.
8. Exercise - Enjoy physical activity and movement.
9. Exploration - Experience the fictional setting.
10. Exhibition - Show off (costumes, props, acting chops, mad skillz, etc.) and get kudos.
11. Fellowship - Enjoy time with friends (also includes flirting and such).
12. Flow – Enjoy losing oneself in the moment.
13. Leadership - Be important to the player community.
14. Protagonist - Be important to the story and impact the game world.
15. Spectacle - Experience the awesome stuff (pretty costumes, elaborate sets, funny NPCs, etc.)
16. Versatility – Collect important things (spells, lore, favors, etc.) and have the right thing at the right time.

So, Story Games folks, do the concepts in this article seem helpful? Do the categorizations and the suggestions seem valid? Have I missed hugely important things that seem obvious to you?

I know that some of the motives, obviously, focus heavily on larping and some on live combat larp specifically. I don't expect tabletop folks to get much out of the discussion of the Exercise motive, for example. But I think a lot of the concepts can be a helpful aid to clear analysis and design discussion across both tabletop and live roleplay.

Plus, I think that the more granular analysis aids in recognizing the legitimacy of various motives, even when they may not be high on one person's list. When you're just looking at 3-4 play styles, it's easy to say "that's the one that's most like me, so the other ones are all full of stuff I'm not interested in". But when you have a list of 16 things, each individual is going to have a very different list of the things they prioritize higher than others - plus, it's easier to recognize that sometimes you prioritize one way while other times you prioritize differently.

(Edited the title to take out "LARP", in hopes that fewer people ignore it that way)

Comments

  • I'm still working through reading the article. But I don't see why the "Dysfunctional Motives" are counted as motives at all. They all seem to be behaviors. Behaviors usually working as a manifestation of one or more off the motives outlined in the article. They just are manifesting in unhealthy, unproductive ways instead of functional, healthy ways. Cheating is a very effective way of achieving goals like competition and comprehension, and might also come from motives like embodiment (if playing a shifty, thief-type character), versatility, etc. Being disruptive is often a manifestation of the Leadership and/or Protagonist roles

    I have in a couple larps become disruptive when it became that my character could not contribute meaningfully to the prescripted storyline. Lashing out became a way to test how far I could push the train before it went off the railroad. This probably wasn't appropriate behavior, but it came from a stunted Protagonist motive. (Last year at Origins, I chose to have my guy storm away and be shot in the head by a sniper rather than wait around for the GM to read me the prewritten ending for my character.)



    I realize that Dysfunctional Behavior is beyond the basic scope of the article, but the point is "Those things aren't Motives. They're Behaviors, in service to one of the established Motives."
  • edited June 2011
    Interesting. What was your methodology? How did you identify these motives? Are you essentially hypothesising that these are the major motives (which is fair enough) or is there something else going on? (I have read the article).
  • Nick - Thank you for your suggestion. I'll work on rewording that part a bit. My main point was that I was not going to address negative behaviors or motives. But I like you're way of wording it - that they are dysfunctional behaviors that result when a motive is frustrated rather than satisfied. I'm planning to try to publish the article again in the next Knutepunkt book, so I'll work on rewording that part before then.

    Graham - Essentially this sprang out of a frustration with discussions happening at too high of a level - people only discussing play styles. To use a political analogy, I see many discussions that equate to "Oh, well you're not a Democrat, so you see things differently" rather than talking about more detailed issues. This is, essentially, an attempt to discuss the major issues, regardless of higher level groupings.

    As for methodology, I primarily drew on my own experience to assemble the preliminary list. Then I posted it to the rpg.net larp forum, where it lead to some good discussion and got refined and fleshed out. Then I took the refined list and started putting the article together. I also did some research so that I could tie the article to previous work that had been done in larp theory. Then I gave a draft to a few people like Sarah Lynne Bowman and J. Tuomas Harviainen to get some feedback and suggestions and did a revision.

    So I didn't set out to do rigorous field work. I didn't want the "Here is some useful advice from a fellow designer" practical stuff to be lost in "Here is my rigorous academic triple-blind statistically-relevant gobbledegook" stuff. I always focus first on what is practical and useful, and I think this article has a lot of stuff in it that can be useful.

    As an interesting side note, I found that the motives I identified mapped pretty closely to those identified by Stuart Brown in his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Especially my initial, shorter list. The list got a bit more detailed as discussion continued and some additional things were identified. But I considered that to be a nice validation of the work I had done.
  • Thanks Rob. That's useful stuff.

    With things like this, I always want to know how people developed the list. The same applies to, say, the Big Model: I want to know whether it came from interviews, experience, observation or which method. If it's a combination of experience and discussion, that's fine, but it's good to know.

    Interesting. Hmm. We should have more discussions like this.
  • Graham,

    I'm glad you find it useful. That was the goal, more than anything. I get annoyed when I read academic articles that spend all their time classifying and describing things and then do nothing toward making suggestions about how to make use of those classifications and descriptions. So I wanted to make sure I did more than that.

    Sure, there's more that could be said. I could write a whole book about how to design larps and still other folks could write their own books in response. But at least I tied the theory stuff to real design issues and got started on the specifics of implementation.
  • edited June 2011
    The list makes for a good read. It's all desires that I've seen players express/pursue in one way or another. I, uh... I doubt I'll remember it. I'm not sure how I'd use it. Maybe when sitting down with a new group, and getting on the same page about what we're there to do? Basics of roleplaying, then color and fictional stuff to do, then primary potential rewards of play, with that list as a guide if you can't think of them yourself? (Note: I have not read the article, just this thread.)

    Nit-picking and critique:
    - As "why to play", Versatility seems weak to me. It seems more like a method in service to one of the other 15. But I could be wrong.
    - Exploration likewise seems like a means to ends listed elsewhere, like Education, Embodiment, Flow, Audience, etc.
    - For consistency of noun types, maybe rename "Audience" as "Entertainment"?
    - "Catharsis" is not the word I'd pick for experiencing character emotions -- it brings specific emotions to mind. But I can't think of a better word...
    - Does Fellowship cover stuff you do in the game? If so, then Exhibition would be part of it. If not, then cool, but perhaps specify?
    - There's a partial overlap between social and personal rewards that confuses me. I can be a Protagonist for my own satisfaction, or because I want the attention of others (Exhibition). I can show Leadership because I want control over the fiction, or because it's my best way to Embody my character, or as Exhibition. If Leadership deserves a category, maybe there should be other contribution categories too?
    - Where's the creative stuff?! Where's authorship, storytelling, creation of plot and sights and sounds and characters and meaning?! Maybe that's something LARP players (as opposed to GMs) don't get to do much. But it certainly impacts this list's utility for tabletop.
  • That's pretty cool, Rob. I haven't read the article yet, but I will.

    I'm going to comment on that list really quick so don't take this too seriously.

    I can go down the list for various games or gamers and toggle the categories on/off, like settings and I like that. But two things kinda stick out for me.
    1. Flow - maybe it's an issue of terminology or semantics but the way I understand it I can't really imagine play without flow. From Hunzinga onwards, with the whole "magic circle" thing, games are a suspension of normal reality. While you play, you're in the zone, regardless of whether you're chucking dice in a casino or throwing a ball at a hoop. Play without flow is...I dunno...not really play, disengaged participation, shuffling at the edge of the circle. So in respect to my "on/off toggle" understanding above, this doesn't really fit because I can't see a player not being motivated to "be in the moment". If you're not motivated to do that then you're not really motivated to play.

    2. I'm missing "Expression" as a motivator. Maybe this falls under Exhibition? But it feels a bit narrow. You have "experiencing a narrative" but no "creating a narrative" you have "exploring a world" but no "creating a world".
  • Some responses:

    Dave

    In general, these aren't high level "why we play" motives. These are the types of motives that lead to specific individual behaviors. So Versatility isn't the type of motive that informs all of your actions in a whole event. But if, for example, you choose to play an alchemist character and you collect lots of herbs and recipes so that when someone says "We need a resistance to acid potion" you can say "I can do that, just give me 3 minutes" and that makes you happy, then Versatility is one of the several motives that is important to you. Some players would NEVER care about putting the time and energy in to collecting all that stuff and being that useful guy in that type of situation. Some players really enjoy it a lot. But, yeah, it's not the entire reason they show up to play.

    Likewise, Exploration. It's usually not one of those things that people would say is hugely important. But there are, for example, players who really like seeing the game world presented in a way that is consistent and rich. This is, perhaps, easier to accomplish in a 5 person tabletop game. It's much harder to do well with a 50 player larp. So it's easier to see the difference between the people who don't really care about portraying the differences between, say, this particular fantasy world compared to others that are similar but have some key differences. Some people really like to see a well documented and well realized setting that is consistantly portrayed across all the participants and especially across all the staff. You can spot players like this when, say, a prop comes in that is mentioned in a relatively obscure lore document that they've read, and they get all excited because they recognize it and know what it's supposed to mean.

    Audience vs Entertainment. I wanted to focus on the story part. Entertainment sounds too much like what I'm covering with Exhibition and Spectacle.

    Catharsis - I agree that it unfortunately carries a bit more specific connotation than I would prefer. But, likewise, it was the closest term I could think of to what I mean.

    Leadership - Just because you're taking a leadership position in game doesn't mean you're necessarily interested in the Leadership motive. The Leadership motive primarily means you're doing something because of how it will impact your status within the player community.
    - Where's the creative stuff?! Where's authorship, storytelling, creation of plot and sights and sounds and characters and meaning?! Maybe that's something LARP players (as opposed to GMs) don't get to do much. But it certainly impacts this list's utility for tabletop.
    Where isn't it? Authorship and Storytelling is covered by Protagonist and Audience (Audience covers both passive experiencing of a story and actively working toward making it happen.) and Embodiment.

    Creation of plot? What do you mean? Instigating conflict with another character? That's a combination of Protagonist and Catharsis, mostly.

    Creation of sights and sounds - Crafting and Exhibition and Embodiment and maybe Exploration, depending on what you're creating and what your underlying goal is in doing so.

    Creation of characters and meaning - Embodiment, Catharsis, Exploration, again depending on what you're creating and what your underlying goal is in doing so.

    What actual concrete activities do you see players do that don't come under these categories of motivation? Not abstractions. Actual actions.

    And please take a moment and read the whole article. Some of these short discriptions are written in a more passive way because they are intended to encompass both passive and active actions, because in a large larp the player is constantly making choices about where they place themselves within the game space and what parts of the action they pay attention to. So even just going over and hovering on the outside of a group of people to hear what they are talking about is a motive-driven behavior. They may be doing so because they are following up on a plot thread and seeing how it turns out. They may be doing so because an element of the game world that was written up in the documentation but not previously embodied in an active character is present and they want to see what it's like. They may be doing so because they are embodying their sneaky rogue character who is listening in for juicy tidbits that they can later sell off to interested parties. All of these motives can be satisfied with a relatively passive looking behavior, which is why I wrote up several of the descriptions to include more passive styles of satisfying the motives. But the more active actions are included with those as well.
  • Posted By: Teataine1. Flow - maybe it's an issue of terminology or semantics but the way I understand it I can't really imagine play without flow. From Hunzinga onwards, with the whole "magic circle" thing, games are a suspension of normal reality. While you play, you're in the zone, regardless of whether you're chucking dice in a casino or throwing a ball at a hoop. Play without flow is...I dunno...not really play, disengaged participation, shuffling at the edge of the circle. So in respect to my "on/off toggle" understanding above, this doesn't really fit because I can't see a player not being motivated to "be in the moment". If you're not motivated to do that then you're not really motivated to play.
    I'm jealous. If you've never played a game with someone who was only halfway engaged and have never felt less than fully engaged yourself, then you're gaming experiences are, undoubtedly, more consistently amazing than mine.

    Either that, or you're a player with a very high priority in the Flow motive. So much so that you don't even see that others don't hold that motive as being as important as you do yourself.

    If you want to see what I'm talking about, spend more time observing games that you are not actively involved with personally. I think you'll discover that some folks are not 100% engaged and present with the activity at hand.
    Posted By: Teataine2. I'm missing "Expression" as a motivator. Maybe this falls under Exhibition? But it feels a bit narrow. You have "experiencing a narrative" but no "creating a narrative" you have "exploring a world" but no "creating a world".
    As I was attempting to explain to David, things like expression are broken down and embedded in other motives. Also, those with more passive sounding descriptions include their more active counterparts.

    Exploration includes both experiencing the game world and creating it. If you read the great description of the neo-Celtic culture that the GM wrote and you got all excited and detailed your home villiage in loving detail in your writeup, then you're satisfying your Exploration motive - especially if the GM makes use of that creative work you did and incorporates it into the game world. If the GM doesn't, then your attempt at satisfying that motive is being frustrated.

    Likewise with Audience. If you're actively working toward bringing a plot thread toward a rich conclusion, then you're satisfying your Audience motive. If the GM is being a pain in the ass and refusing to let that thread be wrapped up because they are running out of other ideas to work with or they have a narrow interpretation of how they want it to play out, then they are likely frustrating that motive for you. But some players are more passive about it. They want to see a cool conclusion, but they don't really care whether or not they made it happen. So that's why I wrote the description to be more broadly encompassing.

    There are more details and examples in the full article that, I think, make things a bit more clear.
  • I have arrived here from this thread, which I'll call the 'Big Purple Poll Discussion Thread' or 'BPP Discussion Thread'. By way of a precis, Rob McDiarmid posted on that thread, suggesting that I had produced a "tangled web of related meanings" by mixing up various things which people loosely refer to as immersion. I took issue with that, for reasons set out in that thread, but I made it clear that I hadn't had time to read Rob's essay. I've now read it, and I've responded on that thread to those assertions that Rob made. The contention I make in my response on that thread is essentially that Rob himself has used and identified in his essay the same concept of immersion that I've used passim [a basically unitary concept of immersion in character]. The 'tangled web' if it exists at all only exists insofar as when I articulated my layman's terms definition of immersion on the original Big Purple poll thread I did so partly by illustrating what immersion means in practice, including things which lead to and result from immersion rather than being immersion itself. Beyond that, I feel that Rob has incorrectly inferred that various poll options were only directly to do with specific goals of play that he has identified in his essay, and not directly to do with that same concept of immersion. I think his analysis in this respect is flawed.

    That, however, is not a general criticism of his essay, which, it transpires, to my not inconsiderable surprise, is an almost entirely reasonable analysis of sixteen different facets of roleplaying games, most if not all of which can genuinely be considered to be distinct "goals of play" for some players or at least "things some players enjoy about roleplaying" or "things some players enjoy while roleplaying".

    A small number I take issue with.

    (1) It seems to me that "embodiment" as Rob describes it in his essay is not a goal of play but a mode of play. People do not "embody" for the sake of it. They "embody" because they desire what Rob calls "flow" and "exhibition" and other things such as suspension of disbelief, or because the rules tell them not to metagame and they don't want to cheat.

    (2) It seems to me that relatively few players really engage with roleplaying with a view to education or catharsis in the ordinary sense of those words, although I can accept that there are some players who do. That may be more a feature of LARP around the LA area (where Rob's based) than in England (where I'm based). It seems more of an American thing than a British thing, frankly.

    (3) What Rob calls "catharsis" may however be an aspect of immersion, if he means "feeling one's character's emotions" regardless of any psychological improvement or sense of emotional healing from doing so (catharsis normally implies emotional healing, but perhaps not in Rob's essay - on page 5 he says "I don't want to theorize about why a catharsisfocused player wants to experiment with emotional play and what that may do to make them a better person", and I'm not quite sure whether "making them a better person" is within or outside the catharsis "goal" as Rob sees it - out, I suspect). In the specially restricted sense Rob appears to intend (i.e. feeling emotions as/through one's character regardless of emotional healing), catharsis is something gamers enjoy about immersion. It seems odd to describe it as a goal of play for those gamers (who include myself), but perhaps it makes the grade. However I would rather identify specific emotions that the character and player share, and think of those as goals of play. That's the approach I take in my dry and lengthy essay on the Art and Theory of Immersive Roleplay, available for free on Lulu here. Thus, for instance, the experience by the player of "horror/fear", "triumph", "tragedy" and a sense of "mystery" or "wonderment", especially where felt through/as the character, could be goals of play.

    (4) It seems to me that "comprehension", "competition" and "versatility" are really aspects of the same thing - the desire for challenge - manifested in different ways. The same basic drives underlie them - the desire to prove oneself, to overcome challenges and to experience a sense of triumph. In fact, to me, the dichotomy of a "sense of challenge" and a "feeling of triumph" is more interesting than the division of types of challenge into challenges of comprehension, challenges of competition and challenges of breadth-based as opposed to focus-based character optimisation, which I think is a fairly trivial scheme of classification.

    (5) Many goals of play can be basically emanations of a drive for excitement - such as "physicality", "competition" and "spectacle". It may be more interesting to consider, say, excitement as a goal in and of itself, rather than only one aspect of excitement. It may be more interesting to juxtapose, say, excitement and mystery, rather than physical excitement and the excitement of spectacle.

    To the extent that I'm inquiring as to the underlying drive, I may be going against Rob's basic stated methodology of not wanting to analyse why gamers enjoy particular goals and not wanting to look at things at a psychological level (page 5). Whilst I'm not particularly interested in some kind of a Freudian analysis of WHY a gamer wants excitement, I'm much more interested in identifying that a gamer likes a particular kind of game because of, say, the excitement of challenge and triumph, than in simply identifying that the gamer likes combat. Why? Because the more you know about the basic building blocks of the player's motivations, the more you can infer about what will or won't satisfy that drive, allowing you to extrapolate / interpolate to cover situations you haven't yet encountered. And stuff like that.

    [Cont.]


  • edited September 2012
    Generally speaking I think there are parts of Rob's essay where he's making a bit of a mountain out of a molehill, seeing things as problematic or difficult to deal with (in the practical running of a LARP) which I view as unproblematic. But that could be a transatlantic LARPing culture-clash, and it could be partly that I'm a bit of a rough-and-tumble fellow when it comes to confrontational behaviour and expecting people to "tough it out" and "just deal with it", so maybe I'm either insensitive, or have British rather than American sensitivities, or both.

    My own view is that many different goals of play such as experiencing a sense of triumph or experiencing the poignancy of a character's personal dilemmas or theme/premise in the Lit 101 sense - many different goals of play of these kinds - can be satisfied in the context of immersive roleplay and can enhance the experience of immersive roleplay though they are not in and of themselves of the essence of immersion [in character]. In that sense immersion exists on a different plane to "goals of play" of that kind. It will be no surprise that the "goals of play" I identify in my own essay are the goals of play I personally consider to be most interesting for immersive roleplay.

    I also feel that Rob's essay sort of implies that gamers turn up at the game with set sorts of fun in mind, whereas often the fact is that people just turn up to have fun, open-minded as to what sort of fun that may be, indeed perhaps with no fixed preconception of what they're hoping will happen during the game. That, in fact, is I think my own general approach to games. I'm a bit of a blank slate when I start the game. Sure, I'm probably expecting to experience immersion [in character], and I'm probably hoping that the game won't deterioriate into some specific sort of experience that I know I wouldn't like, such as, for tabletop games at any rate, a pure hack-n-slash railroad. [They can be AWESOME in foam-sword LARP from a physicality point of view, though I think maybe I find them AWESOME when I'm also immersed in character, and merely entertaining when I'm not.]

    I certainly don't think that players generally speaking fit into rigid "types" who truly primarily value one particular goal of play of the kinds Rob specifies - at any rate if we're talking about players who attain and value immersion in character. My own sense is that players who attain and value immersion in character enjoy satisfying a broad range of goals of play while immersed. Emphasis on one goal or another varies from player to player, but immersion tends to be a gateway to a smorgasbord of subsidiary experiences, and players who game that way enjoy all sorts of different things at different times and in different circumstances. They MOSTLY don't game JUST for immersion in itself. They want their immersion, but they ALSO want the game to be, say, poignant (with personal dilemmas or theme/premise) or thrilling (with a sense of, say, challenge, triumph or fear). Those are emotions they want to feel, and immersion serves primarily to HEIGHTEN those emotions for them. I say "MOSTLY", as of course there are SOME gamers who are happy just to be immersed even in VERY tame situations for a period of time. I for one am SOMETIMES, perhaps OFTEN, happy to game that way, but I guess I tend to like there to be a hint of excitement or mystery or wonder lurking at the edges even if it's not screaming in my face.

    One interesting idea in Rob's essay is the "OK hand-sign" he uses in his ApocaLARP to indicate that a player is fine while roleplaying something which could be mistaken for real-life distress. I think it should be reserved for extreme cases, but there have been times I've either been mistakenly taken for being in real-life distress or I've mistakenly taken someone else for being in real-life distress. Likewise when someone's sworn at me in-character I've occasionally mistakenly thought they were angry with me out-of-character (maybe I'd hit them too hard?). BUT using that "OK hand-sign" may immediately break immersion if it's not broken already. So I think it should only be used as a subtle way to resume immersive play rather than being used as a matter of course during all "extreme" roleplay of that nature.

    At a general analytical level, I think what's missing from Rob's essay is... empirical investigation. I noted the bit on page 3 where he talks about players' behaviour exhibiting clues as to their desires. Frankly that small bit was very reminiscent of stuff I've read on The Forge, written by Ron Edwards. I don't think it's a sound methodology for an analysis of how to make LARP fun. For reasons set out in my essay (same one I've already linked to), I think that anyone investigating roleplay with a view to making it work better has to be acutely conscious that they're not just a scientist in a lab full of rats - they're actually one of the rats themselves, and they have this wonderful resource, the rat-brain, to help them empathise with the rats. Plus, they can actually speak to the rats, and ask them questions, and get sensible answers. I just don't accept the contention that players' feedback offers no insight into what they enjoy. I trust players to some degree to be able to understand and articulate what they enjoy - especially the ones interested enough in what makes RPGs work to post even on the most mainstream RPG forum going, and even more so the ones who post on fringe sites such as this one or the RPG Pundit's site. That's why I set up polls on The Big Purple to get a semi-respectable sample of gamers to vote on what things they prefer.

    So basically, I say:- ASK players what they enjoy. Do SURVEYS. USE your surveys. In your essay, don't just create some abstract anatomy of roleplaying games or goals of play. GIVE DATA. So you say "Education" is a goal. Or "Competition". Or "Catharsis". HOW MANY PLAYERS VIEW IT AS A GOAL? HOW MANY PLAYERS HAVE RECENTLY ENJOYED THAT ASPECT OF PLAY? HOW MANY PLAYERS HAVE HAD MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES OF THAT ASPECT OF PLAY? HOW DO THE RESULTS CLUSTER?

    My own intuition, backed up I think to some extent by the Big Purple poll in relation to immersive play specifically, is that there IS a certain clustering when it comes to the major playstyle preferences, which I would designate as:-
    * storygaming where (paraphrasing Andy Kitkowski) the focus is on "our story" not "my character"
    * immersive roleplay, where the focus is on "my character", and not on anyone's "story"
    * wargaming, where the focus is on killing your character, and keeping mine alive [or other relatively *pure* competition]
    * social gaming

  • I also think Rob could have usefully considered cheating and other aspects of "invalid" motives. Personally, I think people get a bit needlessly worked up over munchkins and cheats sometimes. Ask yourself - why should it interfere with YOUR fun that someone else feels the need to cheat? As long as they don't shove it in your face, who cares? The game isn't all about competition. UNLESS, of course, the game IS all about competition, FOR YOU. But for most gamers, it's probably not. And sometimes, there may be valid reasons for cheating [e.g. to help a newbie have a fun first game], and being a munchkin might not be all that bad. Don't get me wrong. I think gaming is generally speaking better off without cheating and munchkinnism. But I don't see the harm in analysing ALL motives, as long as you avoid casting unjustified aspersions on general types of gamer, and do all you can to understand why people tend to game the way they do, giving them the benefit of the doubt where possible. Like I said, I'm a bit of a rough-and-tumble fellow.

    Finally, the essay claims:-
    The sense of simultaneous action runs counter to the state of flow.When a player is experiencing flow, their awareness of events outside their current focus of concentration is greatly reduced – only upon coming out of the flow state does one recognize that other things were going on. So don't be surprised if a flowfocused player expresses ignorance of events occurring outside of their focused attention. [Page 18]
    Insofar as immersion could be considered a subspecies of "flow", it's worth pointing out that the bit I've just quoted doesn't really apply to most immersive play, simply because the immersive player's current focus is generally on everything their character can perceive, to more or less the same degree as their character's focus would be - and that's often a very broad focus indeed. Sure, sometimes the character might have intense, narrowly-focused emotions and concerns, such as hatred for ONE particular enemy standing right in front of you, so you, sharing the character's focus, may lose awareness of other things. But generally, the character would be aware of everything around them, the same as any real human would be. And so, generally speaking, so will you. PLUS with the concept of dual consciousness (explored in my same essay IIRC), there is the possibility for having both the character's focus and your own real-life general awareness operating simultaneously, just as Stanislavsky claimed an actor could be dually conscious as both the character and the actor at the same time (thus, immersed in character, but also aware of the needs, in the actor's case, of the stage).

    Sorry if this feedback has been overly lengthy. Rob, I hope you find it interesting/useful and not overly argumentative. The emphasis in reading these posts ought to be on the fact that, notwithstanding the critique I offer, I found the bulk of the essay to be entirely reasonable.
  • Lots of stuff to respond to.

    For starters:
    (1) It seems to me that "embodiment" as Rob describes it in his essay is not a goal of play but a mode of play. People do not "embody" for the sake of it. They "embody" because they desire what Rob calls "flow" and "exhibition" and other things such as suspension of disbelief, or because the rules tell them not to metagame and they don't want to cheat.
    I define Embodiment primarily as making decisions based on characterization - character knowledge, motivation etc.

    Basically, Embodiment means not metagaming, in the negative context that metagaming is commonly used.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metagaming#Role-playing_games

    When a player places value in doing that, and expresses that value through their actions (which, by the way, can be both actions during game in character and also other actions, like talking about how much they hate metagaming during an afterparty - those behaviors both count as expressing the motive) they are expressing the motive.

    Exactly why you value Embodiment and what other things you value at the same time are not, in the context of identifying granular motive, relevant. It doesn't matter whether you value Embodiment because the rules say don't metagame and you want to respect that or because you are doing it as part of a desire to connect emotionally with your character, or because you want to show off (Exhibition) your ability to make suboptimal strategic choices because they are "realistic" for your character, or whatever other reasons you have.

    You value it. You perform observable actions that demonstrate that you value it. A game designer can put elements in that reinforce it (such as, for example, discouraging talk of meta-knowledge while in character and trying to keep people speaking "realistically" in character, which helps remove distractions from Embodiment), which, hopefully, you appreciate and enjoy.

    In general, looking at the motives as "goals of play" is looking a little too high.

    The idea is that a motive drives a decision. You're at a larp and decided to be belligerent to the enemy king because your character has reason to be pissed at them and you're ignoring the NPCs with their swords up over their head (a sign that they are out-of-game, presumably waiting in the wings of the castle as guards) ready to beat the crap out of you. As a player, you know that you're putting your character in great danger and you have plenty of player reason to back off, but you continue because it's what you're character would do. That's Embodiment.

    If you continue being belligerent to the enemy king primarily because you like tense, emotional scenes, then that's Catharsis. They can overlap. But if you observe another player in multiple instances, sometimes you can tell which they value more. If they tend to gravitate toward emotional scenes even when it maybe doesn't make perfect sense for their character to do so, then maybe they value Catharsis above Embodiment.

    But if they value both a lot, you can encourage (or discourage) either or both as a designer.

    If they're being belligerent to the king primarily because they haven't had a good fight in a while and they're getting antsy, that's more Exercise with maybe some Competition thrown in.

    The more you observe the behavior of a player, the more you can see which motives they value most. However, a player's motive priorities may change a bit based on the situation, the character they are playing, the affordances available in a given game, the crowd playing, and other factors. But often you can identify a few consistent motives based on behavior that a given player values heavily.

    Hmm. I'm starting to address some of the other things you've said, and not just this. Ah well. It's challenging to dialog when writing long forum posts.
  • Regarding Catharsis.

    I may need to change that term to Bleed. Now that that term has been used more in RPG theory (primarily Nordic larp theory) it fits closer to what I am trying to get at, which is more about identifying with (and sharing) the emotions of your character (and, perhaps, magnifying them a bit in order to emphasize their importance) rather than reaching a state of peace/insight/whatever afterwards, as is implied by the term catharsis.
  • (4) It seems to me that "comprehension", "competition" and "versatility" are really aspects of the same thing - the desire for challenge - manifested in different ways. The same basic drives underlie them - the desire to prove oneself, to overcome challenges and to experience a sense of triumph. In fact, to me, the dichotomy of a "sense of challenge" and a "feeling of triumph" is more interesting than the division of types of challenge into challenges of comprehension, challenges of competition and challenges of breadth-based as opposed to focus-based character optimisation, which I think is a fairly trivial scheme of classification.
    I totally agree that these are related and that the feelings one gets when satisfying these motives are similar.

    But the affordances that one can place into a game for them are different. Some overlap, yes. But some are different.

    And I know of players, for example, who value Versatility who shy away from direct Competition.

    Also, the motives combine together in different ways to create different outcomes. That's part of the value of looking at them at a smaller level instead of grouping them together into higher level categories that do less to inspire specific affordances in game.

    Competition + Exercise = Boffer fight. That one's pretty easy, right. Though it should be noted that some players enjoy the competitive aspect of it more while others care more about the thrill of movement and grace.

    Comprehension + Exercise = A floor tile puzzle where you jump around from one spot to another in a certain pattern in order to avoid a trap.

    Exercise + Exhibition = Dancing. The fairy queen request that you dance for her in return for her favor.

    Exercise + Spectacle = An evening hike to a spot that presents a particularly awesome view of the sunset followed by a hike back along a pathway bordered by paper lanterns.

    Looking at how different motives can combine together can inspire elements to put into a game.

    Looking at higher level groupings of things is less good for that.

    More than anything else, I want the list and the essay to have practical usefulness, not just drive abstract theory discussions. That's why it's grounded in behavioral observation at one end and practical application at the other.
  • edited September 2012
    (1) It seems to me that "embodiment" as Rob describes it in his essay is not a goal of play but a mode of play. ...
    I define Embodiment primarily as making decisions based on characterization - character knowledge, motivation etc.

    Basically, Embodiment means not metagaming, in the negative context that metagaming is commonly used.
    I got that from the essay. I don't think that "metagaming" in that sense necessarily carries negative connotations - depending on your audience. The whole "Author Stance" / "Director Stance" deal which some storygamers are very fond of is pure metagaming in this sense. That doesn't mean it's bad. It just means it operates outside the ambit of the game-fiction. Some people hate that stuff so it has negative connotations for them, possibly because they wrongly assume that the motives behind it are necessarily munchkinnism and "winning". But actually it's a neutral term, properly understood.
    When a player places value in doing that, and expresses that value through their actions (which, by the way, can be both actions during game in character and also other actions, like talking about how much they hate metagaming during an afterparty - those behaviors both count as expressing the motive) they are expressing the motive.
    IMHO, they are alluding to their underlying motives. If they hate metagaming, they probably hate it because:-
    * when they metagame, it distracts them from thinking their character's thoughts and (critically) feeling like their character
    * when people metagame, it can easily look/feel like cheating if the group's shared expectation is of in-character thinking only
    --- especially because people often assume the primary motive for metagaming is munchkinnism or "winning"
    * when people metagame it may make their portrayal of their character less convincing (whether blatantly or subtly)
    Exactly why you value Embodiment and what other things you value at the same time are not, in the context of identifying granular motive, relevant.
    Why is it relevant to identify "granular motive" at this level?

    Let me put it this way. When you identify "embodiment" as a "motive", what you are really identifying is a concrete expression of various underlying motives. Now there might be a philosophical, analytical or semantic argument for saying that "embodiment" is a motive itself, and at any rate I can accept that people with the underlying motives which drive embodiment form the habit of embodiment and express a preference for it. But looking at things at that level, IMHO, doesn't give us a whole lot of insight into the bigger picture.

    In other words I think you're in danger of losing the wood for the trees.
    The idea is that a motive drives a decision. You're at a larp and decided to be belligerent to the enemy king because your character has reason to be pissed at them and you're ignoring the NPCs with their swords up over their head (a sign that they are out-of-game, presumably waiting in the wings of the castle as guards) ready to beat the crap out of you. As a player, you know that you're putting your character in great danger and you have plenty of player reason to back off, but you continue because it's what you're character would do. That's Embodiment.

    If you continue being belligerent to the enemy king primarily because you like tense, emotional scenes, then that's Catharsis. They can overlap. But if you observe another player in multiple instances, sometimes you can tell which they value more. If they tend to gravitate toward emotional scenes even when it maybe doesn't make perfect sense for their character to do so, then maybe they value Catharsis above Embodiment.
    But of course life is more complex than a neat division between the two, as I think you recognise in your later comments. To put it another way, people often perform particular actions not for one specific reason but for a combination of reasons, any of which might on its own be sufficient. For instance, you may flirt with a girl not only because you want the one obvious thing, but perhaps also and at the same time and equally because you enjoy her company, you want to make her feel good, you're in the habit of flirting and just can't help yourself, you're showing off to your mates how good you are at hitting on girls, you find a sense of satisfaction in your own flirting prowess, you like the feeling of power that you get from influencing people by flirting with them, etc. etc. etc. You can't always simply carve out one of these motives alone as the one true reason why you're flirting.
    The more you observe the behavior of a player, the more you can see which motives they value most.
    I understand that you include what players say about their preferences in the general heading of their behaviour, but I think that the way you phrase that last sentence I've just quoted really puts the wrong emphasis on it. It implies that you're primarily interested in observing the player like a rat in a lab, rather than listening to what they have to say for themselves.

    The single most reliable indication of a player's preference, by a considerable margin, is what they say about their own preferences. Sure, you have to interpret that in the context of their behaviour and your own introspective insight into what roleplayers enjoy as well as with the gift of empathy, intuition etc. BUT what the player states about their preferences is a far better guide than the conclusions you draw from simply watching them.

    OK, here's the critical thing, and it's really difficult to find a way to put this into exact words but I'll try:-

    If you focus on motives at the level of granularity that your article suggests, there are so many of them that it becomes an impossible mental juggling act to address them all with a clear vision simultaneously. It seems to me to be far more useful to see how they cluster together; seeing what common drives and motives underlie them at a deeper level is a part of that. You can then address the underlying motives directly, and thus begin to address several of the granular-level "motives" simultaneously, by a single scheme.

    That's not to say that some of the suggestions that you make [as to how to satisfy granular-level motives] aren't useful as rules of thumb. But there needs to be a clearer vision in order to address such questions as which granular-level motive you prefer when two or more come into conflict, and why. I can accept that large-sized LARPs are broad churches in the sense that you want to accommodate many different sorts of players but in a competitive world where there are many LARPs which could draw a player's attention you want to have strong appeal, IMHO, to one or two common player interests in order to maintain not just a broad appeal but depth of appeal too. The same applies to tabletop gaming. So for instance you might want to have a strong appeal to immersive gamers, or a strong appeal to storygamers, or whatever the major clusters might be. [I don't mean this to be totalising discourse - obviously a player might like immersive playstyles in one context, storygaming in another and a mix in a third context. Really what I mean is that a game may well want to focus on addressing a few compatible or broadly compatible playstyles well, or at least to consider that as an option. By understanding the deeper motives you can also address more easily how to accommodate two competing playstyles compatibly with each other.]

  • More than anything else, I want the list and the essay to have practical usefulness, not just drive abstract theory discussions. That's why it's grounded in behavioral observation at one end and practical application at the other.
    Just to emphasise the point, "behavioural observation" puts the emphasis too much on watching the player during the game. I know you think it encompasses listening to the player talk about their preferences, but the point is that listening to the player is far and away the best form of "behavioural observation" in this context [albeit that you have to do more than *just* listen to them too], and I think you need to focus more on what players say, and less on what they appear, to you, to be doing.

    Of course, focusing on what they *say* doesn't just mean focusing on what they say *unprompted*. It means asking them the right questions too. And ultimately, it means surveys and polls, obviously the results being subject to interpretation, but nonetheless being the critical underpinnings of any claim to empirical value that your assertions might acquire.
  • Just my 2c, but I've listened to people talk at length about how they really like a particular type of gaming, and how it's the only kind of gaming that they like, and as soon as you put them in a game designed to enable that activity, they go off and do something completely different. (Probably, there are people who think that about me, too.) Self awareness is not always as common as people think it is.
  • I sort of like this, and things like it, but I don't find them particularly useful for the purposes of design.

    For the purposes of marketing, however, they're great. The ability to identify and communicate the qualities of the product people are contemplating buying has been lackluster, in my opinion, in this field.
  • edited September 2012
    @ Stephanie, maybe so, but I can also imagine how someone could misunderstand what a player says about their preferences or could fail in an attempt to design a game to cater to that individual's preferences by missing some important point which perhaps wasn't stated but which the player in question took for granted or thought was implied. I think there's an especially high risk of that if the person listening to the player and designing the game is approaching the whole thing from the angle of a particularly theoretical approach to RPGs. And I think those risks are massively elevated if all you do is watch the player play and not ask them what they enjoy or want.

    @ Roger, certainly, having language to describe what your game is about in a way that the gaming public commonly understand is a really important thing for marketing and communicating to the gaming public. Maybe you're right about this sort of thing not really helping game design, or maybe not, but it can't hurt to have some people trying this kind of approach, can it. As long as other people are sticking to the tried and tested method of just making a game they think they'd enjoy themselves and/or following a trial and error based approach...
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