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Re: (TFT) Rules?

I'd actually argue that the "social contract" and problem solving are far more important, to the exclusion of control and competition as part of what defines a game.

Control and Competition really only come up if they are part of the nature of the social contract and problem solving.

But thats really just a bunch of philosophical mumbo jumbo. What does it actually mean? To explain, I will use some games (some simplistic in nature, others not) as examples.

Chess is a good place to start.

The control is obvious- everything in chess is just what you choose to do (although you share this power equally with an opponent).

Competition varies, because in the world championship you have that highly competitive aspect but also a grudging respect for your opponent, while a random pick up game with a friend cause you have nothing better to do while you talk is much less competitive and there is general understanding that no one's reputation is at stake. Its still defined as "me versus you," however. But all of this leads to the social contract-

Social Contract- Arguably, the very idea of rules is somewhat arbitrary and is social contract between players- if you want, you can play some weird variation of chess, if both players agree. In general, however, the level of seriousness and competition is what this determines.

Problem solving- this is really where competition and control stem from in Chess. The game is essentially an ever changing puzzle that is NOT predetermined because every time you play the opponent may do something different. This, in my opinion, is where the whole part where there is competition stems from. Why competition? so that you have two halfs of the puzzle being made at once, and so that the halves contradict each other- solving the puzzle in favor of the side you create is the whole point. So really, the competition is an extension of the puzzle. Obviously, to have this sort of puzzle, there is no need for randomness (and having it would only take away from the whole point of the puzzle).

So basically, Chess is puzzle solving game, with the variable being the players, leaving control in their hands, and using the competition as a tool for the puzzle. The social contract barely exists in chess from a gameplay standpoint, although socially, how we play and enjoy it are still very dependent on this social aspect.

The next game will be Chain Reaction 3, a miniatures wargame (Two Hour Wargames). Its quite fun, and free... its not very well known, though, so this example might not help clarify. Still, bare with me.

Control- you basically control your character, the "star." the star can sort of command his squad or platoon or whatever, but the "Grunts" will do stuff based upon many random reaction tests. The game has a high level of strategy and tactics, but part of this is coping with the chaos that is presented by having a large number of random factors (unlike in, say, 40k, where because there are actually much FEWER variables, one bad or good roll decides the game. In this sort of game, the winning team is almost always decided by tactics, but this is in fact facilitated by having many more variables that mean you have to adjust strategy as time goes on). So there is control, but a lot of it is more indirect than direct control over who shoots and who is pinned down, for example.

Competition: This game is probably most often played solo by its fans, with cooperative games coming in at a close second. Head to head fighting is actually fairly rare, and when it does happen, due to the social contract, it rarely is considered 'competitive' as much as just a way of having fun. It certainly is competitive in nature though, with the competition often being against the mechanics (or against a player). However, I'd say its far less competitive than chess, which is inherently built on the idea of competition.

Problem solving: similar to chess, the opponent is essentially creating the problem, but in this game you don't have full control over even your own side, so sometimes your own sides is part of the problem. Its essentially a way of creating an ever changing, complex puzzle that is never the same twice. This is similar to chess, but instead of doing it by giving you total control of half and putting you against someone with total control of the other half, you are instead forced to deal with the problem with your hands tied behind your back, with the pieces not entirely under your control, but instead following their own logic. This means you have to deal with it in a simulation-esque way, viewing yourself as a commander in charge of actual troops who think and react (hence the name of the system) like people as well. In short, a rather complex puzzle to solve that sometimes has no good answer, but is the core idea behind the game.

Social Contract: arguably the most important part of the game. Even in head to head games, the overall feel is either more of a simulation or of a movie. This largely depends on whether the players want a more cinematic feel or a more realistic feel (as the system, with minor variations, does both fairly well). With a simulation, winning is often not possible for one side, and there is no shame in losing (indeed, survival is more of a goal than beating your opponent, and often scenarios will make one or both sides incapable of entirely defeating their opponent, the object being to survive, often by retreating). Even if your opponent was really playing to BEAT you, there are still no strings attached- no tournaments, no feeling of losing a fair game (in simulation style games its usually not fair, just like in real life), and afterwards, all of your dead characters can come back to life and play in the next game (if you choose- thats part of the social contract). In a more cinematic game, its often more FUN to lose in a dramatic last stand... people will often do this intentionally (can be funny if both people do it, as one usually ends up winning in a landslide if both are trying to lose...). The feeling becomes even more like an RPG, in that both players are cooperatively trying to make a cool story more than trying to win. Indeed, with the right social contract, the game can basically ignore most of the rules when you feel like it, letting players get away with things that usually wouldn't work, but sound cool, and are therefore fun. Hence, the social contract really defines this game as much as the problem solving.

Last, but not least, RPGs.
I say RPGs in general, because once you come down to it, RPGs are all the same core idea:
EVERYTHING is the social contract.
The rules are entirely determined by what the GM, players, etc, feel like. They will mix and match rules, make their own, ignore the ones they are using, etc. Its all at the whim of what the players want the game to be like (including the GM in the use of the word players). Problem solving, therefor, is simultaneously inherently rejected by RPGs (in that, in a system/world that can be bent to you, no problems actually exist) and are at the same time at the core of most games, as most players want there to be problem solving. Control? Arguably, you could say this puts all control in the hands of everybody, but thats basically just the social contract being restated under the heading "control."
Competition? Only present at ALL if everyone agrees on it, pretty much.

So, I view it as a sort of scale:
Problem Solving-Both-Social Contract.
With Chess being one end (not quite, as all games include social contract, and a crossword puzzle being the true end of the scale), most games being somewhere in the middle, and RPGs being what we call the farthest extreme of social contract to the point of making set rules, problems, and competition nonexistant. Thats not to say there are no rules, there are no puzzles, and there is no competition in RPGs, but by their very nature those things are alterable (to the point of being the focus or being nonexistant) by the social contract involved in RPGs.

This is why many of Jay's very detailed connections to the real world, with many intricate, complex rules, in some ways are contradictory to the whole style of play of my group of friends. My group prefers to play fast and loose with the rules to keep the action flowing, with simple rules (like Chess, Chain Reaction, and TFT) dominating our games for their simplicity. That is our social contract. We play for fun, and we don't want to have to memorize too much. Chess is simple. It is fun because of its fairly complex problem solving. Chain Reaction is pretty simple. It is fun because of a mixture of the social side and the puzzle side. TFT is simple. It is fun because our imagination is given free reign over the rules, but if we want to introduce problems- killing a guy with a sword, picking a lock, creating an empire- we are given a simple system to use if we don't want to come up with something ourselves.

However, Jay's group, probably, prefers a more complex form of play. Their social contract is that they will all take their imagination and kind of document it using many, many complex rules.

Basically, the social contract of my sort of group would be that we all imagine things and talk about it, and when we feel like applying rules to it, we take something simple and use it as the rules. Jay's sort of group's contract is more that they will have a complex set of rules, and then take their imagination and use the rules to explain it.

Thats basically the two opposite extremes of role playing, IMO, and basically is the reason that RPGs are fun. With the free reign of the imagination, groups are capable of defining their own terms of play. This is why discussing these two sides of RPGs on this email group is really the main thing- Jay presenting his rules ideas and asking about applying it to real world physics to get the right answer, with others asking about ideas for what a group of dragons should be called (the best example, as recently this group has been dominated by Jay.... not too many others seem to be reading anymore =(
On Jan 4, 2011, at 11:52 AM, catchy24528@mypacks.net wrote:

Hi Jay,

I think you might be overlooking the social contract aspect of games that occurs even in as lowly a game as Tic-Tac-Toe, and becomes more and more important in games like RPGs where the competition aspect is (or should) be somewhat reduced. In TTT, there is the agreement about who goes first that needs to be agreed upon, a very simple social contract. Obviously in RPGs, the less that the rules define explicitly, the more the social contract comes into play.

Also, another key aspect of games is problem solving. I get mad at myself when I "lose" if I had figured something out and then made a mistake. Sometimes it's also easy to get frustrated if I never seem to "get" a game. Worlds of Darkness games were like that for me. The ability for the GM to select both the number of successes required AND the target number made for incredibly unpredictable odds, not to mention the "when you roll a 1 it cancels a success" rule which really wreaks havoc on gameplay. To date, it's the only RPG system I won't play.

So I think you have:

1) Problem Solving
2) Social Contract
3) Control
4) Competition

The ratios of which depend on:

1) the game itself
2) the people that are playing
3) How I'm feeling at the time


- Marc

-----Original Message-----
From: Jay Carlisle <Jay_Carlisle@charter.net>
Sent: Jan 2, 2011 9:17 PM
To: tft@brainiac.com
Subject: (TFT) Rules?

I believe that human beings engage in the playing of games largely because good games can satisfy two very strong urges that motivate a human life,
namely the drives for control and competition.
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