Reference, Common Ground, and the Shared Imagined Space

When you and I are at dinner and I say "This chicken is delicious," in order for you to understand me, a lot has to be going on.

So there's this object in the real world, a roast chicken, sitting in front of us on the table.

And each of us have got a mental model of the real world. In each of our mental models, we have a representation of a roast chicken.

When I say "This chicken", that utterance references the roast chicken in the real world, but can only do so through the roast chicken in each mental model of the real world. Those mental roast-chicken symbols correspond to the physical real chicken; they are caused by the physical real chicken, enabling successful reference.

Communication is only possible if (A) both of us are confident that each of us has a mental roast-chicken-symbol, and (B) both of us are confident of fact A. How can that be the case? Do we have infinitely nested mental models of each other's mental models of each other's mental models?

No, of course not; the universe has a finite capacity for information. Instead, we use a heuristic: "Any entity that can observe a physical X has a symbol for X in its mental model of the world." Each of us observes the other observing the chicken. Each of us therefore knows that each of us has a chicken-symbol.

We call knowledge of this form, gained through heuristics like "Any entity that [Situation] has [Knowledge]," manifest. To all dinner guests, it is manifest that a roast chicken is on the table.

We call manifest knowledge in the common ground.

Cool! We can talk about dinner. When I utter "This chicken," you know that I'm referring to some salient entity within the chicken-category that exists and is relevant in both of our mental models: the roast-chicken-symbol that caused by observing the physical roast chicken on the table.

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So. Mental models don't have to be caused by the real world. Symbols in those models don't have to correspond to anything in the real world.

That's all linguistic pragmatics, so far. Let's talk about games! Let's talk about the Shared Imagined Space.

As we play an RPG or a game like Air Chess, through conversation, and through other performative acts like manipulating minis on a map, we make manifest facts about a hypothetical environment that does not have any correspondence to the real world. We call this common ground relating to a hypothetical environment the Shared Imagined Space.

Cool.

.

So. We have the SIS. We construct the SIS by making facts manifest through conversation and performance.

This SIS has no correspondence to the real world.

But that doesn't mean it has no correspondence to anything.

In Air Chess, there are Rules. They exist before we even start out conversation. And there's a Game State. The Game State is objective, it doesn't change because we've forgotten something about it. If we can check the game state, we can add the forgotten bits back in to our mental models.

We have a heuristic for how the rules and game state add to our common ground: "Any entity that knows the rules of Air Chess includes the mandates of those rules in their mental model of the hypothetical space that represents the game-state."

And, "Any entity that directly observes some portion of the game state includes representations of that portion of the state in their mental model of the hypothetical space."

And, "Any entity hearing an utterance that describes a change to the game state will so alter their representation of the state if and only if the described change constitutes a rules-legal move."

(And lots more, really.)

In infinite-board partially-observable asymmetric-information Air Chess, ie, a Gloracular Klokwerk Blorby RPG or maybe Strategos, the rules and the game state cause corresponding symbols and symbolic relationships to exist in participants' mental models of the hypothetical space.

Those participants' good-faith utterances about their own mental models of the hypothetical space cause those symbols and symbolic relationships to become manifest and grounded: to be added to the Shared Imagined Space.

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In a Blorby Gloracular Klokwerk game, there is a real, actual THING that exists outside of the SIS. The Game State.

We are having a conversation about the Game State. That conversation grounds and modifies the Game State.

As an epiphenomenal byproduct of this conversation, a story is produced.

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In a pure No-Myth game, there is no Game State outside of the manifest, grounded Shared Imagined Space.

We each have private mental models that are bigger than the SIS. I know what my character's thinking, but I haven't told the rest of the group yet. But those private representations aren't caused by, don't correspond to, don't supervene upon, any objective external construct.

.

Obviously, this difference isn't categorical. It's a continuum: How extensive is the Game State, what does it cover? Blorb says: the bigger, the better. No Myth says: as small as you can get away with.

In The Pool, the game state is a single number for each player.

In Sandra's D&D, it includes hundreds of pages of module content, hundreds of pages of spells, dozens of roll tables, detailed maps.

If someone else were running the same module as Sandra, in a non-Blorby way, those hundreds of pages of module content might not count as game state. They'd be mere suggestions.

Comments

  • As an epiphenomenal byproduct of this conversation, a story is produced
    That's also true of many other situations where a story is told. You can tell a story as admonition for someone, as advice, as an example/metaphor to explain a concept. You can tell a story to entertain someone or to delay your death. You can even tell a story to make money, or to explain in court why you're not guilty.
    In many of those situations, the story itself is truly secondary to what you want to achieve, but that doesn't mean it can't be analysed as a narration, with all the structural elements a written story has. That means that even in a short oral anecdote, we could analyze the narrator, genre, etc.
    Does it truly matter if story is an epyphenomenal byproduct? Why not just play with a board and without the names, mostly in silence? There must be some reason the fictional layer can't be removed. In my opinion, that's because it is an essential component of the activity. In fact, in the other thread you and Sandra were talking about diegesis all the time, and about diegetic coherence out some other term I don't remember being so important. Diegesis refers to storytelling. But all of a sudden story is only a byproduct. If that's the case, all previous arguments about diegetic coherence are suddenly useless.
  • I love you so much Jeph♥♥♥
  • That's also true of many other situations where a story is told.
    Obviously the word "story" can mean many different things.

    A telephone call to the police station can be like a story and a concept album with Ian Gillan can be like a story.

    But it's still meaningful to discuss the difference between a telephone and a CD player.

  • This is a really nice overview of the semantic perspective on referents and such (I assume: I’m not trained in the field, but it seems very clear).

    However, I was with you up until the ending.
    I don’t think the analogy that blorb is the same Full Myth and non-blorb is No Myth. There’s a lot of overlap between those concepts but they are not synonymous.
  • edited June 1
    Very nice. I have been sensing assemblage theory approaching for a while.

    So Game State, if it exists, supersedes the SIS, and may be consulted to correct errors (forgetfulness, etc) in the SIS. It includes notes, drawings, and other ephemera. In a metaphorical way, we might say that the GS has the ability and authority to deterritorialize and reterritorialize the SIS. Whereas - if I read you correctly - at the other end of the spectrum the GS ideally doesn't exist. (My view is slightly different here: I'd say that on this end of the spectrum the SIS is taken for or absorbs the GS, and thus the knob we're turning is really modulating the amount or degree of this absorption.)

    So, to pull this into my world for examination, in regard to my aforementioned Lady Blackbird adventure...

    On your model, the "problem" was that the Lord Blackbird player, based on previous experience with other games, believed that there was a strong Game State; an understandable error which led to his assumption that not only was the dragon part of some pre-existing GS, but - this is the key point - that the fuel problem was a puzzle that had a particular pre-designated solution, i.e., one correct way to "win." Following from that assumption, he felt that he had "won" by proposing the solution of using the dragon for fuel, and this sense of "winning" or "correctly solving the puzzle" was what became deflated when he learned what had really happened (i.e., when I explained that, in this game, the SIS is the GS).

    As for the others, the word I used was "flabbergasted" and I stand by it, because it's not a negative response. It's a response related to awe. They saw the beauty of what we had all created spontaneously: me, them, the dragon, everything was part of a chaotic and serendipitous unfolding that despite an utter lack of prep, worked out perfectly - and that LB's penultimate contribution was not "finding the solution" but rather suggesting something by which such a solution could become immanentized.

    "The activity of art, at its most essential, involves making incredibly lucky guesses, the certainty of which would have been impossible before the fact."
    - Victoria Alexander
  • They saw the beauty of what we had all created spontaneously: me, them, the dragon, everything was part of a chaotic and serendipitous unfolding that despite an utter lack of prep, worked out perfectly - and that LB's penultimate contribution was not "finding the solution" but rather suggesting something by which such a solution could become immanentized.

    "The activity of art, at its most essential, involves making incredibly lucky guesses, the certainty of which would have been impossible before the fact."
    - Victoria Alexander
    Very nicely put, AsIf and Victoria! :)

  • Paul: You're right; I think what I'm describing is an element of Gloracular play, but clearly not its entirety.

  • That's also true of many other situations where a story is told. You can tell a story as admonition for someone, as advice, as an example/metaphor to explain a concept. You can tell a story to entertain someone or to delay your death. You can even tell a story to make money, or to explain in court why you're not guilty.

    In many of those situations, the story itself is truly secondary [...]
    Wait, stop, stop!

    I've failed to communicate something. "Epiphenomenal byproduct" does not mean "secondary", not at all!

    In each of your examples, the story is the tool by which the speaker accomplishes their communicative intent.

    When I say the story is an epiphenomenal byprodct, I mean that one might construe the players' words and actions as a story, BUT the players have no communicative intent at all with regards to that story.

    They are not trying to tell it. They are not using it to illustrate something.

    Here's another example of story as epiphenomenal byproduct:

    In the Yucatan peninsula some time in the 1700s, a family builds a house and goes about their daily life. In 2007, an archaeologist collects soil samples from every square foot of that house, tagging the samples with their coordinates. In 2010, in an archaeometrics lab, I and my classmates take a phosphate level reading from each 1x1 foot patch, and search each sample under a microscope to count the fragments of pine, charcoal, ceramic, and bone. From those readings, we assemble a map of where walking paths, hearths, workshops, and rubbish bins lay in the household, and construct a story about the role of that family in the society of that place and time.

    That story is epiphenomenal to the potting, sweeping, and cooking that took place in the household.
  • edited June 1
    I believe what they are trying to do is manifest a Global Narrative within an emergent Personal Narrative that succeeds in covering all the archetypal bases and dynamic topologies that are common or constituitive for its type. Looking back on the events that manifest this Narrative is what produces a Story.
  • edited June 1
    I don’t think the analogy that blorb is the same Full Myth and non-blorb is No Myth. There’s a lot of overlap between those concepts but they are not synonymous.
    2097 Ex Cathedra: uh, preliminary 2097 tentative maybe hypothesis:

    Blorb = full myth
    Antiblorb = no-myth
  • Obviously, this difference isn't categorical. It's a continuum: How extensive is the Game State, what does it cover? Blorb says: the bigger, the better. No Myth says: as small as you can get away with.

    In The Pool, the game state is a single number for each player.

    In Sandra's D&D, it includes hundreds of pages of module content, hundreds of pages of spells, dozens of roll tables, detailed maps.

    If someone else were running the same module as Sandra, in a non-Blorby way, those hundreds of pages of module content might not count as game state. They'd be mere suggestions.
    This is so perfect. Our game state, what is "canon" in the game (maybe "canon" isn't tripping up people as much as "real") is 38 cm (what's that, a little over a foot) of shelf space in terms of paper & books, and 46803 words of online house rule documents and game records, and almost 200 hours of spoken word at the table.

    That is not to scare anyone away from this type of play. Start small. We started with the dinky little starter set and used that and only that for months.
  • edited June 1
    That’s precisely what I’m saying is wrong. They often align but they don’t have to.

    Consider, for example, Jay’s/Cary’s game. It is very very much Full Myth! So much unspoken information and setting material is “canon” and part of play. However, the game is not *at all* blorby.

    (Unless you’re trying to coin “anti-blorb” as distinct from “non-blorb”, perhaps. But that seems to go rather far!)
  • That’s precisely what I’m saying is wrong. They often align but they don’t have to.

    Consider, for example, Jay’s/Cary’s game. It is very very much Full Myth! So much unspoken information and setting material is “canon” and part of play. However, the game is not at all blorby.

    @Silmenume explicitly said that it is no myth. In the original no-myth thread on the Forge, once things were stated in the game, they became myth. The “no myth” refered to things that hadn’t been stated in the game yet.

    According to Jay, Cary can introduce things, inject things etc. It doesn’t go via a gloracle.

    (Unless you’re trying to coin “anti-blorb” as distinct from “non-blorb”, perhaps. But that seems to go rather far!)

    Polar negation vs scalar negation… I don’t really care which in this specific case. No-myth as a philosophical movement was certainly “anti” the idea of blorb.

  • Really? That sounds strange to me.

    How can you play in an existing setting - with existing historical events, characters, conceptual ideas, themes, languages, and all the rest - and call it No Myth?
  • Really? That sounds strange to me.

    How can you play in an existing setting - with existing historical events, characters, conceptual ideas, themes, languages, and all the rest - and call it No Myth?
    Yes, they had the Middle-Earth.

    But any no-myth philosophy game if it runs for long enough will bricolage enough myth gradually to have a bunch of established gamestate. It's just that things that haven't been established is still Schrödinger's, is still fuzzy, is still not part of the myth. That was the idea behind no-myth. Joueur and I are, well, not really on speaking terms so you'll have to ask him!

    PS it's so ironic that the adjective "Schrödinger's", esp outside the field of physics, these days mean pretty much the opposite of his philosophy; he constructed the cat thought experiment as a parody of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics to show how ridiculous he thought it was.
  • And I'm obv with Niels Bohr that the wave form is statistics just like how an encounter entry of 3d6 wolves can still be fully blorb.
  • A pretty clear no-myth thread from the Forge; not the first, not the last, but maybe the clearest
  • Pretty much the direct opposite of the idea of blorb
  • Five seconds later Paul managed to, in the other thread, prove that full-myth is a subset of blorb instead of being isomorphic to blorb. See, I can be wrong on here. And I'm gladly so. Because I'm here to learn.

    The argument he put forth (in a very socratic manner) is that the "mirror story" experience also includes the stance issue and not just the prep issue.
  • edited June 2
    I... really don’t think I buy the idea of the concepts being aligned at all. I can imagine elements that are blorb but not Myth and vice versa.

    On one end of the spectrum we have Jay’s game. Full Myth but no blorb.

    At the other end, we have a hypothetically highly blorb game that ends up, whether by design or by accident, running almost entirely on random tables. (I’ve seen this happen plenty of times in OSR games that veer off from a written “module” because of a random encounter or undulant die result. I can relate a story about that if desired.)

    That game, at least for some time, could be highly blorb but entirely No Myth (in practice if not in principle).

    Sure, “blorb” and Myth will align a lot. But not always and I think they’re almost entirely unrelated Technical concerns.
  • I'm not sure I'd call Jay's game Full Myth. At least, not at all in the same way Sandra's game is Full Myth.

    Like, in Jay's game, there's no attempt at all to nail down the presence, number, and motivation of a band of Orc in the area until such a time as they become relevant to the session. There's no Game State for that.

    And in Sandra's game, I'm guessing there's no attempt at all to nail down the genealogy of the lords of the realm going back 20 generations.

    .

    Also, note that in Jay's game, the full text of Tolkien is already manifest, already in the SIS, genealogy of Aragorn son of Arathron son of [...] and all.

    Or, hm, that's not quite what I'm getting at. After all, the spells section of D&D5e is already manifest too...

    Maybe we're being sloppy by talking about Myth without further qualification. Sometimes, when we say Myth, we mean an extensive corpus of manifest information (eg Tolkien). Sometimes, we mean external game state that's a causal antecedent of the SIS (eg the dungeon map and encounter table).

    The D&D5e spells section is both of those things: an extensive corpus of manifest information AND external game state that's a causal antecedent of the SIS.

    .

    Here's another difference: in the "corpus of manifest information" sense, the myth can be wrong. Just cause something's manifest doesn't mean it's true. Maybe the roast chicken on the table before is is just a hologram! We put a roast chicken in our mental model of the world, but it corresponds to no actual roast chicken. Maybe the book says Elrond has two sons, but Cary knows that Eladan and Elrohir have recently been slain; he just hasn't told you yet.

    But game state can never be wrong, definitionally. The game state is a set of true propositions.

    This can get a little tricky... Cary's private knowledge, his mental model of Spicy Middle Earth, is a causal antecedent of the SIS, and definitionally true by his group's social contract. So how's that different from game state?

    [Cary's Brain] -> [SIS]

    But Sandra's dungeon map and encounter table are not only a causal antecedent of the SIS. They're also a causal antecedent of her own mental model. And by her group's social contract, Sandra's model isn't definitionally true. When Sandra checks her maps and finds that she's made a mistake, her mental model conflicts with what's written down, the game state wins.

    [Dungeon Map] -> [Sandra's Brain] -> [SIS]

  • edited June 2
    Jeph, that's it exactly.

    @Paul_T: Jay stated explicitly that Cary's game was being run no-myth. In a no-myth game, more and more myth is being bricolaged onto the Middle-Earth canon like a big katamari as they are established in play, whereas in a full myth game things are bricolaged onto the canon like a big katamari as they are established in prep. That's what "no myth" means. Yes, that means that it's a dumb confusing name (but so is "blorb" so I shouldn't throw stones).
  • edited June 2

    This can get a little tricky… Cary’s private knowledge, his mental model of Spicy Middle Earth, is a causal antecedent of the SIS, and definitionally true by his group’s social contract. So how’s that different from game state?

    [Cary’s Brain] -> [SIS]

    According to what Jay posted on here the other day, and without asking Cary directly, the difference is that the ideas held in the brain are mutable and aren’t fixed until they are made part of the SIS. (Just as you wrote with the orcs example—but not sure if it matters whether it's "there is no idea, it's just not established" or if it's "there is an idea, but that idea is mutable/quantum".)

    But Sandra’s dungeon map and encounter table are not only a causal antecedent of the SIS. They’re also a causal antecedent of her own mental model. And by her group’s social contract, Sandra’s model isn’t definitionally true. When Sandra checks her maps and finds that she’s made a mistake, her mental model conflicts with what’s written down, the game state wins.

    [Dungeon Map] -> [Sandra’s Brain] -> [SIS]

    That’s right; last session I messed up and made a big mistake; saying that you could see into a room that you couldn’t see into because I missed a wall. I paused the game, everyone was brutally shook out of their stances, apologized profusely, chopped off a couple of pinkies to atone, and explained what had happened. Please let’s just say that your characters guessed that that room was there; you’ve seen this door from the other side and you’ve seen the related imagery in that room and how it matches the iconography. (I think the map maker also had a bit of a mistake moment because the map kinda didn’t make sense wrt the module text.) A blorb failure! But… true integrity more important than saving the “face” of integrity!

    Content warning: picture of a brain Also here is my brain. Yes really.
  • Yeah, I think that shows the *difference* between blorb and Full Myth (“how we can handle errors/failures when they happen”, a small subset of everything else that can happen under either method).

    It’s not the full picture; just a little slice of an error and correction.
  • Yeah, I think that shows the *difference* between blorb and Full Myth (“how we can handle errors/failures when they happen”, a small subset of everything else that can happen under either method).
    No, that's not a difference. What the heck kind of "full myth" DM would let a mistake like that stand…?

    Jeff posted the other thread:
    As an example of fully Blorb games that do not use 1-player-1-character or Identifying Stance, I submit Strategos and Braunstein.

    Admittedly, these are not exactly RPGs. But they are very much the direct precursors of RPGs!

    @Paul_T
    If you don't need the identifying stance, then blorb truly is 100% isomorphic to "full myth" as these examples show. I'm not so sure I agree with that since I think the identifying stance is so awesome.

    I mean, I introduced the "full myth" nomenclature a few years after the "mirror story" (as a mirror of Le Joueur's "no myth" terminology developed for the Scattershot game back in the day, descriptions of that playstyle matched up with my own pre-"mirror story" playstyle). And now I'm getting schooled what I meant with that, 4 years ago? :bawling:


    @Jeph
    Note that I didn't say 1-player-1-character; I said no more than one player per character (not vice versa). (I think the army commanders are meant to be the "identity" characters of Strategos though.)
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