2009-09-10: Cues part 2
Simon Roger wrote:
This is so true. In Trail of Cthulhu, everyone has a Drive - the thing which makes them go into the dark basement. There is a small mechanical reward for following your Drive into danger, and a penalty for not doing so.
There hasn't been a single playtest or reported example of actual play where someone has had to apply the penalty. The existence of the Drive mechanic, and the Drive itself written on the character sheet is enough to affect play alone.
When is a mechanic, not a mechanic? When it's a simple, functioning cue.
Vincent is making some great points about game mechanic subsystems and the dynamics (ie the soul) of a game, over on anyway. When we look at the procedures of play, we understand them so far: how their economies interact, what actions certain incentives will make likely, the kinds of choices and resources available to the players. Great. But this still leaves some dimensions outside of our view. The emotional and the inspirational, at least.
The emotional parts are things like the heart-pumping excitement Vincent talks about Pit giving you. This comes about because there are no turns, everyone is doing it at the same time. If you each took a turn to trade cards, like in most card games, you'd get the feeling you do when playing Old Maid or Rummy. You would need more complicated choices for it to be exciting. Well, not in Old Maid, but it is a game for early learners. Pit's simplicity makes it possible to have the cascading trading going on. One element of complication at a time. But the simultaneous play introduces the dynamic of a race into the simple process of sorting. That's where it get's its zip.
The inspirational parts are the deeper, fictional implications of all that is in play. This is where we get to the cue business. Simon's example is an excellent one. Similarly, the best interests in In a Wicked Age..., and the issues in Primetime Adventures do not have any mechanical impact. They don't represent any metagame resources, they don't provide any advantage or disadvantage, they don't trigger any processes. But what they do is create a large body of fictional material that follows from them. They give you ideas, and inspire play. They may give you leverage.
And they don't need any incentives to do that. They don't need any mechanical reinforcement because they are directly shaping the fiction, rather than using dynamics created by their interaction with other things and their emotional effects on the players, and likely a host of other things (though, of course to confuse matters more, they have those non-mechanical effects too), to move play forward. The interests, drive and issues become organizing principles in the game. That is their effect. They are, I think, strong attractors, as Markus Montola talks about in his essay on rpg games as chaotic systems*. They create ripples that are followed by others, that open the way and bring about movement in the plot and motivation in the characters. They are tremendous tools for players and GMs, and they don't need any external (or meta) incentive at all.
There are a host of things that function this way. Most of setting in many games does so. Though often aspects of setting become married to mechanical representations. It matters a great deal whether you are playing circus performers or sword-slinging rogues at the get go about what you will imagine happening in the game, it will set permissions and expecations galore before play ever starts. But, of course, your sword will likely be given weight fictionally through mechanical stats, though your facepaint or tiny, tiny car might not get similar treatment. Or they might, depending on the system! But in some ways, they've already done their work, long before a die is rolled or points are purchased.
So, I'm probably wrong about that "simple" up there, but I think we're on the getting a glimpse of the world of effects things in game have outside of the mechanics.
*If you read Markus' article (which I recommend) do take a look at the list of integrative methods for gms, larpwrights and players on p. 161. It is a profile of elements characteristic of "system matters"-on games.