Curiosity thrilled the cat

edited February 2013 in Story Games
The following is taken from the article What is a game?.
It is oft said that "stories are about conflict", but this is a gross simplification. True, conflict is a common storytelling device, but there are many stories without express conflicts, such as love stories which rest upon misunderstandings, rags-to-riches tales of outrageous fortune, and adventure stories, all of which sustain the reader's interest by maintaining curiosity.

What is common to all well-regarded stories is uncertainty, the desire to discover what happens next, and conflict (i.e. competition) is just one of many ways that uncertainty can be generated.
I'm really tired of seeing roleplaying games as conflicts - especially the build-up: frame new scene, create conflict, resolve conflict, frame new scene - so what other ways are there to create uncertainty when we play? One black sheep that we all love to hate (or hate to love ... or purely enjoy) is railroading. By being guided in the GM's story, you hopefully have a curiosity to see how everything turns out in the end. What other ways can you give me that creates curiosity? What experiences do you have that created curiosity? Have other media created curiosity and can you convert that into use in a roleplaying game? Does the curiosity have to be experienced during play?

Be sure to read through the link if you want some inspiration of what creates curiosity.

Comments

  • edited February 2013
    And I will put the one who starts arguing about railroading into a sack with angry ferrets. Yes, I know that you, yes you, had your fair share of bad railroading but what I gave was just one example of where successful ones can create curiosity and therefore; be successful.

    I think this discussion can develop into something bigger, where rolling dice or using similar randomisers (that creates uncertainty) doesn't have to be the only thing that people think of when it comes to building a roleplaying game.
  • Discussions of conflict resolution have died down in indie games circles, I think, as other models of thinking about creating interesting "action" have arisen.

    Apocalypse World brought back task resolution in a serious way, though sometimes its moves are broader than that, resolving conflicts or entire situations or sometimes not really resolving much of anything but instead asserting things that are true in the fiction.

    Newer, hippier games have often ignored traditional ideas of resolution entirely, often focusing instead on exploring characters and situations in a more freeform structure. My Daughter Queen of France and Silver & White come to mind, as do refresh scenes in Bliss Stage.

    I have not yet seen an action-adventure game without some form of task/conflict resolution (I don't think?), but it's really only a matter of time.
  • I feel like pointing out that conflict is not just competition between two characters (we all know competition is a small subset of conflict, right?), and therefore:

    - A love story which rests upon misunderstandings is based on conflict. Two people are in love, therefore they want to be together, but the misunderstanding must be overcome for that to ever happen. And that's even before you get into the typical internal conflicts of even the happiest love story ("Can this really be happening for me? *swoon*").

    - A rags-to-riches tale of outrageous fortune is (almost always) based on conflict. Someone is poor, they want to be rich, but they must struggle and connive and overcome many obstacles in order to get there. There is SO MUCH CONFLICT baked into that; every obstacle is a new conflict! (I say 'almost always' because there are probably a few really insipid, boring stories where a poor person just gets a bunch of money with no effort or struggle and is happy, the end.)

    - Adventure stories are also loaded with conflict. The adventurer has to overcome the environment with brawn or wits or general preparedness, plus there will likely be a few conflicts with gorillas or giant rolling boulders or poison darts. An adventure story without conflict is a (dull) travel atlas.


    Anyway, on the actual topic: when you say uncertainty and curiosity, what are you talking about? If it's just not knowing what exactly comes next, then yeah, having someone other than you in charge of saying what happens next accomplishes that, as would a random table or a deck of event cards or a stack of map tiles. Is that the kind of thing you're asking about?
  • edited February 2013
    AccountingForTaste: I do agree with what you said. I wonder if it's the author's interpretation or not, because it seems like bad examples, so I wonder if that's Thomas Malaby really meant (I'm now having his blog in my feed). If we take the love story as an example, I could be curious as to how the love story evolve rather than having the challenge of that misunderstanding. I could also feel love while playing the love story or have it enhance my existing feelings. The curiosity could lie in how it's different from my own experiences. I could also discover how the love affects the others around me. Just to give some other examples of building uncertainty by not using a conflict.
    Anyway, on the actual topic: when you say uncertainty and curiosity, what are you talking about?
    I'm mostly curious (heh) about how your thoughts went when you read the first post. So far, it's mostly been about using a randomiser (conflict resolution system, random tables, stack of map tiles). I've just seen "someone other than you in charge" and "focusing instead on exploring characters and situations" as something different from the suggested randomisers.
  • edited February 2013
    Kishōtenketsu
    Cool! :) [edit] Both what I read about it, and also that your thoughts wandered there.
  • There are many different ways to create a "curiosity" and a sense of discovery in the course of a story, especially if we are thinking on a larger scale.

    For instance:

    In my game Land of Nodd, players pick elements of the story that other players must include in other characters' storylines. Over the long term, these strange coincidences create the sense of a larger, unknown story outside the grasp of any of the individual players. It's very cool feeling: it doesn't feel like any of the players has any idea of what's going on "behind the scenes".

    In In a Wicked Age..., picking a different oracle and elements for each session inspires the players to create an interesting history full of twists (for instance, we draw "an orphan, wandering lost in the desert" and we know that the King must feature in this story, so we decide that, of course, the King's childhood was spent as an orphan urchin). Surprise! We just made that up, but the feeling may be one of discovery rather than creation, because of the constraints imposed by the game.

    I haven't yet seen many very good methods for creating and resolving suspense in action/conflict situations without resorting to some kind of conflict resolution or negotiation mechanic, but I'm looking forward to seeing some!

    "It's Complicated" might be an interesting example to take a look at.

  • Literary conflict and having a conflict resolution system in a game are not intertwined. All literary stories contain conflict. Not all games need a mechanical means to resolve said conflict. In fact, most games have a problem that they resolve conflict too easily, instead of escalating it. I think that the games people really like have good conflict escalation mechanisms (either formal mechanisms like in AW or Polaris or in terms of initial set-up like in Poison'd.)
  • Right on the money, Ben. Nicely put.
  • edited February 2013
    In my game Land of Nodd, players pick elements of the story that other players must include in other characters' storylines. Over the long term, these strange coincidences create the sense of a larger, unknown story outside the grasp of any of the individual players. It's very cool feeling: it doesn't feel like any of the players has any idea of what's going on "behind the scenes".
    I got a sensation (immersive narration) when I played Polaris, where I just had some names on my character sheet and then we just leaped into telling a story I had no idea where it was going to end. It was thrilling to play it out.

    It's pretty obvious when you come to think of it. To create an emergent feeling (or "fruitful void", if you like) you need different parts that interact. This can be done with shards of fictional elements as well as game mechanics.
    In In a Wicked Age..., picking a different oracle and elements for each session inspires the players to create an interesting history full of twists (for instance, we draw "an orphan, wandering lost in the desert" and we know that the King must feature in this story, so we decide that, of course, the King's childhood was spent as an orphan urchin). Surprise! We just made that up, but the feeling may be one of discovery rather than creation, because of the constraints imposed by the game.
    Yeah, it's a really fulfilling feeling to create a fish tank.
    I haven't yet seen many very good methods for creating and resolving suspense in action/conflict situations without resorting to some kind of conflict resolution or negotiation mechanic, but I'm looking forward to seeing some!
    Something I really like is when I throw something out in the air and it gets picked up by someone else. Not just because it's a rewards in itself (somebody listened to me!) but also because it creates a feeling of curiosity. How is my action going to turn out? Creating consequences of someone else's actions should be more common, and I don't just mean consequences that creates trouble for the character. No, I mean side effects that shows different events. Like "Mary wouldn't never have met Charles, if she hadn't been stopped by Winston and therefore been late for the meeting. Now Mary and Charles are married."

    I would pee my pants of excitement if I read a roleplaying game that created consequences in that way.
    There are many different ways to create a "curiosity" and a sense of discovery in the course of a story, especially if we are thinking on a larger scale.
    Be sure to give me more. I'm open ears. :)

  • I'm really tired of seeing roleplaying games as conflicts - especially the build-up: frame new scene, create conflict, resolve conflict, frame new scene - so what other ways are there to create uncertainty when we play?
    Well, I kinda like that set up, but let me go in another direction for a minute.

    You talked in another thread about mimicry. What I took from that was that often,we are starting from some kind of inspirational source material. It could be anything: characters, setting, situation...whatever.

    With mimicry, we start with that stuff. part of the joy of mimicry then is that feeling of "we're doing this right". We know the source material and we play into it and along with expectations based on that.

    Really fun mimicry, though, seems to be when we strike a balance of hitting those elements we like, then twisting them a bit. Inverting some sort of expectation here and there. But the trick is the balance. We don't want to twist or invert so many elements that we go completely away from the source inspirations. We want to go just far enough away that it makes some of that stuff stand out even more.

    In terms of method, I'm not quite sure how to design to that, but that too could be a source of surprise and uncertainty.

  • If one values immersion, there's a pretty much unlimited potential for experiences that doesn't need conflict. Emphasis on experience.

    You could tell a love story that actually focused on the positive side of it. A scenario about falling in love, about feeling it through your character and just wallowing in that feeling.

    Or a scenario about someone dying. Except it's really inevitable and they're okay with it. Not about coming to terms with it, resolving inner conflict, but about immersing yourself in that character, feeling it on your body.

    And so on.
  • edited February 2013
    Great last two posts. I had a fever while you wrote those posts, and I haven't been able to come back to you about it. Making twists on things that we know of, creates an unpredictability because you don't know where it's going. Another way of creating this is by immersing into your character and exploring different emotions through a situation. Great stuff worth of exploring more.

    I've been diving into and reading some game theory and here are some more ways of creating uncertainty without having to fall back on a conflict.

    - parallel stories with one ending. How will the stories change each other?
    - one participant's interpretation, perhaps having a rule system with open-deterministic results or using cards that are open for interpretation.
    - creating a potluck of story elements, where everybody bring their own elements and then mix it together.
    - putting pieces together, such as in a murder mystery. You sort of know how it's going to end, but not exactly how.
    - telling a story with a fixed ending. Now you know how it's going to end, but not how the story will travel to the end.
    - the use of real world happenings, like having the weather or certain events in the newspaper affect the session.
    - enforcing of people's opinions, like voting for outcomes or making pacts.
    - one participant's effort in succeeding.
    - one participant adding something that isn't obvious what it's for.
    - using different techniques or rules during a scene, which may steer the story in a certain direction. "What? Is someone going to fall in love?"
  • edited February 2013
    I'm really tired of seeing roleplaying games as conflicts - especially the build-up: frame new scene, create conflict, resolve conflict, frame new scene - so what other ways are there to create uncertainty when we play?
    Well, I kinda like that set up,
    I can answer this as well. A tendency that I've noticed when playing this kind of structure in different groups (GM less or not) is that I can tell that people just listen to fuck things up for the character that's in the spotlight at the moment. It becomes predictable. It doesn't matter if you play Polaris, My Life With Master, Svart av kval, vit av lust, Fiasco or tons of other games; it becomes predictable; predictable becomes boring. I want more options on how to make the others curious, because the conflict isn't the only way to go. To reconnect to what the first post said:

    »It is oft said that "stories are about conflict", but this is a gross simplification. /.../ What is common to all well-regarded stories is uncertainty,«
  • I'm really tired of seeing roleplaying games as conflicts - especially the build-up: frame new scene, create conflict, resolve conflict, frame new scene - so what other ways are there to create uncertainty when we play?
    Well, I kinda like that set up,
    I can answer this as well. A tendency that I've noticed when playing this kind of structure in different groups (GM less or not) is that I can tell that people just listen to fuck things up for the character that's in the spotlight at the moment. It becomes predictable. It doesn't matter if you play Polaris, My Life With Master, Svart av kval, vit av lust, Fiasco or tons of other games; it becomes predictable; predictable becomes boring. I want more options on how to make the others curious, because the conflict isn't the only way to go. To reconnect to what the first post said:

    »It is oft said that "stories are about conflict", but this is a gross simplification. /.../ What is common to all well-regarded stories is uncertainty,«
    Yeah, I've seen that pattern happen as well. I was more thinking of the fact that I like the scene based set up, and especially the idea of passing that set up around so that everyone got a little time doing the kind of stuff classically in the hands of a GM.

    I agree that it does encourage ( whether because of mechanics or just tradition) the idea that something has gone wrong if there isn't some sort of clash/conflict during the scene.

    Could a possible solution be something as simple as adding a second sort of "off-switch" for a scene?

  • edited February 2013
    Yeah, I've seen that pattern happen as well. I was more thinking of the fact that I like the scene based set up, and especially the idea of passing that set up around so that everyone got a little time doing the kind of stuff classically in the hands of a GM.
    OK, I misunderstood. Yeah, I have nothing against that kind of set-up. :)
    I agree that it does encourage ( whether because of mechanics or just tradition) the idea that something has gone wrong if there isn't some sort of clash/conflict during the scene.

    Could a possible solution be something as simple as adding a second sort of "off-switch" for a scene?
    A scene could be created to establish something. The established thing doesn't have to bring an answer but a clue to what to come, and when it's established the scene ends. The thing is that if someone wants to play out a scene in a GM free game to establish something, it's bound to happen that another participant will start a conflict "to make things happen". When I wrote Past, Present, Future, I wanted to have three different kind of scenes. One that establish facts, one that shows how the people react when the facts are revealed and one that shows the consequences of the everything. Because you can jump from one scene to another in time, the consequences could also be considered as something established. We know that the father will end up in jail, so how should we establish facts and play out the reaction so that can happen?

    I should really try that game to see how it turns out in play...

    ---

    One game I came to think of was The Coyotes of Chicago where there are several GMs and one player. The GMs need to establish things so they can get tokens to start conflicts. You also got a limited pool of tokens so you don't want to waste them on small scale conflicts. It's a really brilliant way of planting the "right thoughts" into the participants' minds: establish facts that doesn't make sense in the first place (creates curiosity!) and create conflict when it really matters. But it took a session to get into that way of thinking.
  • I would say one (if not The) core to creating curiosity is hidden or undefined knowledge about something the players (and somewhat less important their characters) care about. It can be the whole truth behind some great conspiracy or just "I wonder what goes on in that forest?" or "How do they do that in this country?" or "I wonder what this character has to say about this?".
    I think some 'classic' elements can help with curiosity like a strong GM role with great control over the world / plotline and strong characterownership where you can keep and reveal a secret about a character under your control.
    There of course are different ways to do it as well Archipelago where each player gets the right to veto things about a certain element of the setting and exploration and mapping are a big part seems like a game that could inspire and statisfy curiosity.

    I would see Exploration and Mystery as two genres / elements that use curosity at their core. While in Mystery there usually is a conflict about finding out some truth or secret an Exploration can be about just finding out new things.
    The rather ancient Hexploration genre, where you can travel to each place in a sandboxy way and as you move over the map new things are revealed I would say is very much about curiosity. Of course there is not only a geographical dimension to explore, learning something new about cultures can be just as interesting.
    Also there is pacing to statifying curiosity. Sometimes you want to put out hints, create an expectation by having set up scenes and finally a big reveal that might lead to new questions. Sometimes it is enough to have a single scene answer the question right away. But I would say if you play a game focussed on exploration you should have scenes around finding new stuff out. So not saying "Yeah, you know Orcs are a slaveowning society." but instead have a scene where that fact is shown or maybe just it's effect.
  • edited June 2013
    I've been reading Thomas Malaby's Beyond Play: A New Approach to Games and just listened to a lecture by Marc LeBlanc about MDA framwork. Both address unpredictability in the following categories below. I will try and give examples from the answers in the thread.

    MALABY
    Stochastic contingency: stochastic is just a fancy word for "random".
    [see Randomness]
    Social contingency: about never being certain of another person's point of view.
    having someone other than you in charge of saying what happens...
    ...a strong GM role with great control over the world / plotline...
    one participant's interpretation, perhaps having a rule system with open-deterministic results or using cards that are open for interpretation.
    enforcing of people's opinions, like voting for outcomes or making pacts.
    using different techniques or rules during a scene, which may steer the story in a certain direction. "What? Is someone going to fall in love?"
    Performative contingency: you either succeed or fail at a task.
    one participant's effort in succeeding.
    two or more participants against each other.
    Semiotic contingency: never being able to predict the outcome.
    [see Complexity]
    LEBLANC
    Incomplete information: if you don't have all the pieces, you don't know where it's going.
    ...players pick elements of the story that other players must include in other characters' storylines.
    ...picking a different oracle and elements for each session inspires the players to create an interesting history full of twists
    ...hidden or undefined knowledge about something the players /.../ care about.
    ...exploration and mapping...
    I would see Exploration and Mystery as two genres / elements that use curosity at their core.
    ...Hexploration genre, where you can travel to each place in a sandboxy way...
    one participant adding something that isn't obvious what it's for.
    Randomness: the general solution in roleplaying games.
    conflict resolution /.../ task resolution
    ...a random table or a deck of event cards or a stack of map tiles.
    the use of real world happenings, like having the weather or certain events in the newspaper affect the session.
    Complexity: the interaction between the pieces of information or the overflow of information makes it hard to predict the outcome. (Semiotic contingency)
    parallel stories with one ending. How will the stories change each other?
    telling a story with a fixed ending. Now you know how it's going to end, but not how the story will travel to the end.
    Escalation: early points of the game doesn't matter as much, because the stakes are increasing all the time. Like the three rounds in Jeopardy.
    I think that the games people really like have good conflict escalation mechanisms (either formal mechanisms like in AW or Polaris or in terms of initial set-up like in Poison'd.)
    ...strong characterownership where you can keep and reveal a secret about a character under your control.
    Potential barrier (decelerator): you don't know if you will overcome them. They are there to change the scale and the pace and to make the end seem closer than what it is.
    Sometimes you want to put out hints, create an expectation by having set up scenes and finally a big reveal that might lead to new questions.
    Hidden energy: saved up resources that may come in handy later.
    [no examples]
    Cashing out: the game score (or resources) resets so everybody starts at the same level. Anybody can win.
    [no examples]
    I will point out the possibility of more categories than these. The answers that I couldn't sort into categories was:
    • Kishōtenketsu
    • ...a sense of discovery in the course of a story...
    • Really fun mimicry, though, seems to be when we strike a balance of hitting those elements we like, then twisting them a bit. (It's the same as Kishōtenketsu.)
    • You could tell a love story that actually focused on the positive side of it. A scenario about falling in love, about feeling it through your character and just wallowing in that feeling.
  • edited March 2013
    While keeping folks curious is clearly an important goal in RPG play/design, I think it's a mistake to disregard the centrality of conflict in story-focused games. The key word in the original "It is oft said ... " quote is the "express" (meaning, I'd say, "explicit") in "... without EXPRESS conflicts ..." I wouldn't say the problem of predictability vs. uncertainty is related to conflict in any essential sense. That said, putting our attention as players directly on the "it's in there somewhere" conflict is certainly not always a good idea, and I totally get what Rickard is complaining about (fiction-equivalent: trite, predictable genre conventions?). So despite my, um, rejecting the rejection of conflict, I think the stuff in this thread is most excellent. Definitely including what Ben said about resolving vs. escalating conflict.

    Examining the ideas here for how they actually contribute to a developing engagement/understanding by the players of an underlying and/or emergent conflict would be an important step, I think. For story purposes, an entirely unguided/unfocused curiousity is as dangerous as an OVERLY guided/focused one. I'll have to ponder that a bit - or hopefully, someone else will be able to develop it.

    Oh, and since someone mentioned the fruitful void - "socially contingent" has been a big part of my mental translation of the Boss/Lumpley/Care/Loopy Principle/Pudoolie for a while. Yay contingency - you're a great word!
  • edited March 2013
    I added one more thing above that LeMarc claims brings uncertainty - Cashing Out.
    For story purposes, an entirely unguided/unfocused curiousity is as dangerous as an OVERLY guided/focused one. I'll have to ponder that a bit - or hopefully, someone else will be able to develop it.
    Marc LeBlanc states that to create drama, you need two things: uncertainty and inevitability. The latter is "...sense that the game will eventually end, that there will eventually be a resolution." (source)

    I haven't really talked about why you should create curiosity, because I thought it was kind of obvious from the quote in the beginning of this thread. I haven't either talked about how to use curiosity...
    Examining the ideas here for how they actually contribute to a developing engagement/understanding by the players...
    ...because it's a part of a bigger picture. I started to develop a theory of engagement a year ago - what engages us when we play games - and this thread and this post are two parts of that.
  • edited March 2013
    I will point out the possibility of more categories than these. The answers that I couldn't sort into categories was:
    • Kishōtenketsu
    • ...a sense of discovery in the course of a story...
    • Really fun mimicry, though, seems to be when we strike a balance of hitting those elements we like, then twisting them a bit. (It's the same as Kishōtenketsu.)
    • You could tell a love story that actually focused on the positive side of it. A scenario about falling in love, about feeling it through your character and just wallowing in that feeling.
    Now when I look back to it, I think that kishōtenketsu is a mixture of both incomplete information and complexity, but does this by having a passive reader that wants input. You can easily invent a connection between a picture of a soccer ball and a picture of a human but because you're passive, the connection between the two has to be made - a picture of the ball in a soccer goal - which becomes the punchline.

    I guess mimicry is a combination of complexity and social contingency. You have no idea where it's heading because of the other people around you that interacts with you. The same goes with the love story.

    That said, I don't think most games have just one type of uncertainty. Conflicts are the ones that gets the most attention, and it's true that other forms of uncertainties (game mechanics, for once) are created to be about conflicts. What I want to learn is other tool to create uncertainties to create games that are not just about conflicts. That don't have the build-up: frame new scene, create conflict, resolve conflict, frame new scene.
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