Friday, 27 August 2010

The terror of climate change

I've previously written on norms and normality, and quickly related it to our unsustainable lifestyle. I wish to do research on this.

I would like to devout my life to therapy, therapy research, and to the research of norms, society and lifestyle - how to change a society to reduce and cope with environmental disaster.

I have blog on improv and roleplaying connected to psychology, but I do not have one on environmentalism.

I do avoid eating meat, flying or driving (Not that I would afford or need a car), but I am not a part of any environmentalist movement.

Perhaps a part of me do not wish to dive into the issue of climate change. Climate change is terrifying, it's a threat that's so great and with so much momentum it can be paralyzing to approach it. It's so much easier to deny.

Every human must struggle with the unsolveable problem of mortality and death. This life issue is now even more poignant: Now we must struggle with the mortality of us as a species and as a civilization. Things we've taken for granted will come to an end.

But I believe I need to confront this terror, live through it and accept it.

Going from denial into the crisis can break a human, or give hir tranquility and acceptence. Maybe then I can find the strength to act on it. Today I'm ordering litterature.

("Requiem for a species", on the subject of why we're letting this happen and "Makten över klimatet", The power over climate)

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Roleplaying games: Designing with "yes, and..."

This is how you make characters in the storytelling game "Do, Pilgrims of the Flying Temple", by Daniel Solis. Basically, you look around the room and choose an object for how your character helps other people, and the word that describes that object describes how your character gets into trouble.

I love it!

Check it out, I spent some time just coming up with characters:
* Unlit Lamp - Illuminating to others, but lacking an insight in hirself.
* Half-full glass - Makes things transparent and clear, but constantly hungry for more.
* Solid Tree - Nurturing and lifegiving, but set in hir ways.
* Dirty Machine - Efficient and uncomplaining, but uncouth and rude...

I think this is excellent design for roleplaying and collaborative storytelling. It is both simple and inspiring, which I consider the two most important principles for designing roleplaying games.

So, why do I choose "simple" and "inspiring" as the two chief principles of roleplaying design?

I'm going to springboard off of this and describe the foundation of my improv/roleplaying theory. What is improv and roleplaying?


I've written an introduction to improv here, but what is relevant to us right now is the process called "Yes, and..."
This is the cornerstone of improv, and it means that instead of blocking other peoples contribution you first accept them, and then build on them. Simple!

Here, check out this short game that plays with the "Yes, and..." principle!

(I lack a better word for "yes, and...". In swedish there is a great word, bejaka... (to actively accept, affirmation sort of))


I consider roleplaying as basically the same process as improv theatre:
* A bunch of players talking to each other, creating, accepting and building on each other's contributions.
* Building on other people's contributions rather than blocking them is crucial, because then the game goes somewhere. Blocking instead blocks progress of storytelling.
* Thus, movement is the basic measurement of interesting storytelling. To have a good, creative movement is to have flow. This is the ultimate goal of roleplaying.
* Roleplaying has a unique oppertunity compared to improv, through! There is also a game present in this interaction. A good game will inspire flow, a bad game will block it.

Roleplaying games

I think many roleplayers would consider the roleplaying game as a simulation which you emerge into. Roleplaying is primarily the game, so to speak.

Personally, I consider roleplaying primarily the interaction between players, with the game as another participant. It is the players who set up expectations for the game and a shared vision of the game world, but the game does a very important job of informing these expectations (For instance, saying "You're all supposed to play powerful mages in a medieval Europe setting") and the quality of interactions between the players. (For instance, saying "When you are working magic, roll these dice and tell the game master the results")

Roleplaying can be focused on making strategic and tactically sound decisions, immersion into and acting your character, or creating a story together. All of these cases though, are about immersion into the game, and thus a possibility to attain flow.

Designing with "yes, and..."

Okay, so those are some improv-roleplaying theory basics.

So, if all roleplaying games should aspire to attain flow in the participants, how do you write a game with visions, game rules and other game structures to reach flow? I say there are two principles of game design to attain flow when playing:

1) The game must be clear, and not distracting from flow
Meaning, it should be easy enough to grasp and not slow or requiring referencing during play. It should be clear, rather than confusing or ambigous.

When playtesting Berättelser från Staden, I found that when the rules were newly written, they were often unclear and ambigous, and the players became too occupied with figuring out what they actually were allowed to say and not to say within the game, who held story authority over what, etc. Rather than just going with what they felt like, they had to first figure out the game before they could feel safe in the game.

Just as people can't function in daily life without a sense of security, players needs a sense of security when playing a game. The structure of the game, the rules and boundaries needs to be clear. Not to avoid cheaters, but rather to make the players feel secure in what they are supposed and allowed to contribute to the story. The players needs a shared vision, shared expectations, they need to know where they are, and what what they're doing.

In other words, the players should not be spending time figuring out how to play the game, they should be spending time playing the game.

2) The game should inspire flow

Meaning, the game should add it's own impulses, inspiration and movement to the game, to which the player's can answer "Yes, and..." and add their own interpretation of these impulses.

This way, the game does half the work for you, and you do the other half. It is always more interesting to work on and interpret the impulses of others, than just straight up telling a story on your own - Which is not interesting at all, but rather intimidating, even!

Inspiring flow

Some different ways to do half the work for someone and thus inspire flow are...

1) Lists

Lists from which the players can pick concepts. In Berättelser från Staden, play starts with the players choosing from a list of ideas to build a story on, such as...
- The crows whisper their secrets to a man on his balcony
- A young man is going insane over the murder he has committed
- It is the hottest day in summer
The same model is used in In A Wicked Age by Vincent Baker, and called oracles. I provide basic concepts, the players pick one and use hir interpretation of that concept, the inspiration and images that pop into hir mind.

2) Concepts
Rather than a long list with short concepts, you can make a short list with extensive concepts. Character classes are a good example of this, highly stylized character concept choices which inspires and awakens ideas in the players minds. Dungeons and Dragons and Apocalypse World are excellent examples of these. Choosing between an Avenger and a Warden is inspiring. Choosing between proficiency in Electronics or Rifles is does not evoke the same imagery, for instance.

3) Questions
By asking someone a question, you have done half the work for them. When I say "Hey, what does The Great Frog Cave look like? What does it sound and smell like?" I'm making a contribution for someone to build on. Likewise if I ask "This woman, Beth, is coming at you fist firsts, trying to beat you up, why is that?". That is something you can say "Yes, and..." to! Again, Berättelser från Staden and Apocalypse World.

4) Looking at things around you and then interpreting them
Which I've never thought of, but Daniel Solis proves it can be done! Do, Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.

All of the above methods sets the style and vision to work with, relieves you from complete storyship authority (which can be very tiring and anxious-inducing, as we fear failure) and brings ideas to you, ideas you wouldn't normally think of, ideas which hopefully inspires you to creativity. Also, note how they all require you to make meaningful choices. Playing is making meaningful choices, which is a whole fundamental part of game design on it's own.

In conclusion

Good game design achieves the following:
1 - Gives your players a sense of security.
2 - Inspires your players.
3 - Let's your players make meaningful choices.
4 - Clarity, meaning the game does not block flow.
5 - Gives your players techniques to avoid blocking flow.
6 - Profit! (Achieves flow)

The foundations of these achievements is built by communicating a shared vision of the game, through setting, rules, design and accessories (dice, cards etc) and even the wording of the text. A game should put images in the players' heads, and the basis of these images need to be roughly the same.

Compare the rules of a roleplaying game to the set up or rules of an improv game. Improv games also provide some structure for the players to act within. ("The rules are, you may only speak in gibberish, which your mate then translate as he wishes. The setting is, you're holding a lecture on frogs.")

It is interesting to see how my opinion on game design mirrors my views on mental health, with emphasis on sense of security-creativity and meaningfulness. (See my Model of mental health and Meaning, story, understanding) Then again, that's why I started this blog.

Breath of air, diving in

All of my life, I've been very good at distancing me from my opinions, keeping myself sceptical and doubting, nuancing things carefully. At this point in life, I feel like I have reached a sort of peak, a sense of security and confidence in myself and what I have to say.

I've started believing in my ideas more, ready to fight to prove that they are in fact true.
I believe in my capabilities, I know that there are things that I can do, and that I can do real well. I feel secure in this.
But I still feel that I will hold on to this foundation of skepticism and doubt, a good insurance from losing perspective of oneself.

This blog has probably played a major role in this.

I feel I've found proof that the models and ideas that I have written here mean something. They might not be universal (for everyone) truths, but they are most definitly truths.

Yet, there is one thing this blog lacks, and that is other people. The perspectives of others, the discussions that can challenge my thinking just enough. (I'm very good at critizing myself as it is!)

I got what I was asking for with the discussion thread on Story Now and, replying my Why don't women play roleplaying games?-post, so I'm writing a follow-up to that. I think I'll remain in the topic of roleplaying for a while, I have some other posts in that domain coming up. I've also done a really nice interview with Tomas Halling, dada performance artist, about improvising. That'll go up once I'm done editing it.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Why don't women play roleplaying games?

Let's take a look at Dungeons and Dragons. It's the first roleplaying game ever, and there has never been a roleplaying game more popular than D&D. Throughout the 30+ years of roleplaying history, it has defined roleplaying more than any other game.

D&D is...
-Group-based and class-based, rather than based upon individual relationships.
-Hierarchial, with a game master that holds authority over story.
-Focused on performance and problem-solving.
-Based on conflict and combat.
-Systemized, with pages upon pages with an intricate ruleset.
-A simulation (system) of a fantasy world so detailed that it requires a streak of obsessiveness for the reader to be interested in processing and understanding this whole body of information.

These qualities have been nigh-on omnipresent in roleplaying design throughout it's history.

All of these qualities are qualities associated with masculinity, and to a lesser extent, autism.

That does not mean these qualities are biological or pre-determined to be masculine, but right here and right now, in peoples perception of gender, they are.

So what does this tell us? Just as feminism pointed out that the world order that we take for granted is actually defined to favour those in power, men for instance, we as roleplayers needs to realize that our hobby is not an universal one, but an exclusive one.

You don't need to design roleplaying games for women.
You just need to stop designing roleplaying games for slightly autistic men.

Like all traditions, these tendencies has reproduced, it's hard for women to break into a male-dominated hobby. With the modernization of roleplaying design, and the Story Games movement, I predict this will change, though. Let's take a look at my new favorite game, Apocalypse World. (I will take a closer look at this game and why it is important in my upcoming posts)

Apocalypse World is...
-Based on a loose group of allies with their individual relationships and motivations.
-Improvised, so there is no story authority, and the master of ceremonies (GM equivalent) is instructed very specifically to be a fan of the players' characters, not a counterforce for them
-Focused on drama, relationships
-Very, very violent, yes.
-The system is very streamlined, and a way for the players to "come up with cool things to say". The system subjects itself to the players, rather than the other way around.
-A game improvised in the moment, creativity is rewarded rather than obsessiveness with pre-made facts.

So, my prediction is that Apocalypse World and Story Games can appeal to a broader audience. Broads, for instance. (To clarify: Among story gamers and story game writers there ARE a greater number of women players and writers than in the traditional gaming environment I've "grown up in". Also, there's been pointed out to me that "broad" is not such a neutral pun in english that I imagined it to be. Sorry!)

What I would really like to do now is to compare the ratio of female to male fans of different roleplaying games on Facebook, but there seems to be no way of doing such a thing for a mere user. Any advice?

Monday, 16 August 2010

More on sense of security: Status

Status is such a fundamental part of our psyche - Not only are the rules for who is high status and who is not very elaborate, but everybody knows them and everybody follows them. You can not not follow the rules for status - Either you have status or you don't.

Yes, you can try to act above your status, which will succeed or fail. But if you are succesful, then you have in effect not just acted high status, but actually risen in status. You have it.

Status is confidence. Confidence is to feel secure in oneself. To feel secure in oneself is to have a trust in oneself. Just as mastery of a task can be understood as a sense of security in what you can do, status can be understood as what you may do to others.

A person of high status can expect (trust, even) others to pay attention and respect to hir, and a person of low status is expected not to act outside hir station.

It's like...

- Our confidence is a meter that shows how important we are to our society or the group we belong to. (1)
- When we sense we are important, our confidence goes up, when we sense we could easily be replaced at any time, it goes down. (2)
- This confidence, in turn, is signalled outward with status behaviour, such as body language. (3)

An intricate system which I suppose every flock animal shares. It makes evolutionary sense - The best and most useful of us are brought to the front, so that their qualities may express themselves in the group at large. It is much more desirable to have the smart and succesful lead us, than the stupid and clutzy.

But, as usual with evolutionary psychology, this is not necessarily the most favourable way for modern humans. Many people have an insecurity or aren't that good with people, thus losing status and confidence in themselves, even in the abilities they are actually quite good at, and which would benefit the group as whole. Also, today we subscribe to the belief that all humans are equal - But still, we follow the old status rules to a letter, rules that say that some people just aren't worth our time. That is how strong they are.

In my post on trust, I made the simile that trust is the basic currency, the basic worth of life, and that this can be invested or betted. This is very much the case with status - Can you imagine anything more despicable to people in general than a low-status person who tries to act high status but fails? That is, being cocky, mean and proud but coming off as small-minded, stupid and insecure. That can be understood as betting your status on a high status move, but losing.

Status is one of my issues, something I've been occupied with figuring out and worrying about.

I've never had problems with finding friends and gaining the respect of those I care for, but I've always felt a bit outside in school classes. Sometimes in class discussions or at parties, I've felt like some weird prophet - They would listen intently to me, but I wasn't a part of the conversation. I've found myself finishing a thought, and see everyone look at me for a second, waiting for me to go on or something like that, rather than picking up on what I said - And, you know, discuss.
Probably related to another issue of mine - I need confirmation that what I do, what I say, what I give, is something valuable and meaningful. I've needed that affirmation.
During my university years, I identified myself as low status, but I'm starting to realize that I'm actually a high status individual.

Weird, scary and interesting.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

More on sense of security: Mastering a task

Task mastery
One of my textbooks cites a study on hysicians and their initial assessment of their patients - The young and unexperienced physicians did it "by the book", using their textbook theories. The more experienced physicians started out by just getting a feel for the patient, working by intuition, then switching to theoretical knowledge and deduction, and back to intuition and so forth. When asked to describe what they're actually doing, experienced practicers of all kinds have trouble putting words to it - It's like second nature to them now.

When you know something so well it's automatic, so well you don't have to think about it, that's when you perform best. Actually, asking an expert to describe what hir is doing while hir is doing it, will reduce hir performance significantly. It's a flow state.

So, paradoxal in a way, those who have mastered the conventions, the theory and the structure of how to perform a task, are those who have the easiest time deviating from convention and structure - To improvise and be creative. When your skills are so ingrained you don't have to spend cognitive resources on them, the task in itself is routine, you can use your resources to experiment and improv.

But there is also a sense of security in this: When you know you can do this task, when you feel you have it under control, that's when you dare leave your foundation. You stop using your resources to protect against failure, and start using them to reach beyond, reach something higher and novel.

Imagine an acrobat balancing on a chair. He has practiced falling in the right way, so doesn't have to fear hurting himself. He's practiced balancing on a chair until he's mastered it, so he doesn't even have to concentrate to do it. Now, he can get creative, juggling and balancing the chair at the same time, making little jumps with the chair, balancing another chair on the tip of his nose...

Sense of security
What is interesting is that developing a skill follows the same path as finding a sense of security in a life issue. Let's compare the model for mental health...

(Maybe "Borders" and "Process depth" should be replaced with "External" and "Internal")

With a model for mastering a task:

Panic: Confronted with a task where you don't even know in or out, you probably feel lost and anxious, panicked and out of control. You are occupied with defending against catastrophy.
Control: A task where you know the basics, there is a sense of control. You know what to expect and what to do. You are occupied with working with the tools you've been given.
Creativity: When working a task which you know by heart, you transcend the simple know-how. You do not need to fix your attention and problem-solving to handling the tools at hand, you fix your attention to a vision of creativity, and use these tools to reach it. You are occupied with creating beyond the borders.

So, just as a Bowlby described how a child needs a foundation of security to be brave, to build a secure base with hir parents before sie dares to explore around said base...

Just as Maslow describes how you need to find a basic sense of security in the domains of life to start realizing your higher creative potential...

So too need you build your  foundation of theory and knowledge before you can leave it, venturing into creativity. Hell, I've read huge improv books on how to be more spontaneous!

Does mastery underlie mental health?
Let's go back to the model of mental health. What makes me excited here, is that we may take what we know about skill and mastery, and view life's issues as nothing more than tasks to be mastered and worked out correctly. 

- The one who haven't been given the tools and the confidence to handle a life issue doesn't even feel in control of the situation. Sie is occupied with defending oneself against the threat of catastrophy (real or imagined), and these defenses take the shape of symptoms of mental illness. (Abnormal)
- The one who knows how sie should act in response to a given situation can handle hirself well, feels safe and in control. Sie knows socially accepted ways of resolving these life issues. (Normality)
- The one who feels mastery of the life issue, who feels secure in it, can go beyond it, explore it, handle these life issues in any way sie wishes, choosing the most optimal answers for hirself. (Health)

Hmm, I should really check out the Control-Mastery theory.