Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Flow-er Model: Step 1-3

This is the second part on the Flow-er Model. The first part is here.

Step 1-3 in The Flow-er Model concerns the basis for energy and flow. You can think of these steps as taken before the game begins, in how the game designer prepare you for the game, in how the game master (if any) explains the game to the other players, and in the play group's already set play culture and expectations. However, there aren't clear, hard borders between step 1-3 and step 4-7. It does make pedagogical sense to split them into these two categories, though.

1. Players' investment (The sun)
Energy is the basic currency of creativity. Just as everything starts with the sun, nothing will happen in your game if your friends doesn't show up and invest energy into it.

The more energy the players invest into the game, the more energy reserves it has to spend. You can invest energy by coming to the session eager to play, cook food for the other players (which builds group coherence as well!) and write little bits of in-game fiction or play reports, and prepare sessions, write scenarios, make hand-outs.

This is can be risky though, for if the other players do not invest as much as you do, you risk disappointment and bitterness, just as in any other relationship. (See my post on trust and investing it)

2. Sense of security (The soil)
As human beings, one of our top psychological needs is a need for control and understanding of the situation we're in. Therefore, a creative atmosphere requires the players to feel secure, and secure in their roles, just as a seed needs to sit secure in it's soil. For that to happen, the game needs to adress four points:

1. What is expected of me as a participant?
2. What contributions am I allowed to do, what authority do I hold over the fiction?
3. What if I lose control over play?
4. What if I mess up and do it wrong?

The first point (What is expected of me?) is all about what you need to do to make play good. Are you supposed to be inquisitive, tactical, obedient or creative in the game? Should your characters be reckless archetypical adventurers or ordinary people with great character nuance? If it is unclear what kind of mood and playstyle your game is going for, it's going everywhere and nowhere.

The second point (What authority do I hold over the fiction?) are all about making authority, stance and narration rights clear for the players. For traditional games, these are not a big issue: As a player, you decide whatever your character says, thinks, feels and attempts. To see if you are succesful in your attempts, you roll dice. Everything else, the game master decides. Whenever you leave established tradition (could be traditions and conventions of story games as well, of course!) of story authority however, you must be clear on these points.

If the players are confused with what is expected of them, how they play/run this game, or what they are allowed to say and do to the fiction, this creates insecurity. Timid players will feel intimidated and avoid doing anything while they feel confused, while brash players will just act to release tension, perhaps trampling more timid players in the process. Insecurity and confusion makes flow impossible, so always strive towards clarity!

The third point (What if I lose control over play?) is about creating a safe environment for your players. If the GM or the game have an attitude of punishing, opposing and controlling the player's characters, the players will close up and spend their energy to defend themselves against the GM's contributions, wasting energy both they and the GM could use to move the game forward. It is only natural that the players try to retain control over their characters' fates: The player characters embody the players' investment in the game, and the means through which they interact and play the fiction. If you take those away, the players have nothing, so the players will protect what they have.

As a GM, if your players are defensive, try telling them "I will never harm your characters against your will, and nothing will happen to them that you find not funny or uncomfortable". Maybe you'll see them relax a little bit, right there! A sense of control begets a sense of security, and a sense of security begets creativity.

Now, someone might object that danger and opposition is what makes the characters' lives interesting. Well, have you ever done the trust exercise where one person falls backwards, and another peson catches them? If your players feel 100% secure they will not lose control of their characters fate, they will willingly let themselves lose control. They will willingly fall backwards, have terrible things happen to their characters and explore catastrophes for their characters. Instead of you doing it against them though, you will do it with them, enhancing the game's energy rathe than blocking it. To have a sense of control is a very, very deep human need, and when we trust that feeling, we allow ourselves to do scary things.

The fourth point (What if I mess up and do it wrong?) sounds trivial, but it's huge. Being creative and improvising is scary! Everyone can improvise, but everyone also fears failure and looking like the fool. This too, is something deeply human. Playing towards flow demands a great deal of agency through your players, and not everyone feels safe with this!

But; If you cultivate a game where expectations, authority, vision and expectations are legible and clear, if you cultivate a safe and friendly environment, that will go a long way to make players feel more secure in their agency. Also, you can design your game to use techniques of Yes, and... (step 7), and then the game will go half the distance for your players, easing the load of performance anxiety markedly. Just going the second half of the distance is a lot less intimidating.

Also, fear of failure is probably the biggest difficulty for GM's to abandon pre-planned stories and start improvising instead. Give them the tools and the security they need in your game design, if your game is meant to be improvised!

3. Shared vision (The seed)
The seed holds an idea, a vision, for how the plant as a whole will turn out. Likewise, the players of a game will have a vision for what they're interested in, what they expect from the game, how the game world works and operates.

Much like sense of security, this step needs to provide a clear framework to the players - The game should evoke images in the players' heads, and these images needs to match up to each other. A game that conveys an unclear concept of what the characters do and what the world around them looks like will leave the players lost and confused, maybe heading in different directions.

The setting need not be detailed, it's enough to describe some details in evocative language for the players to get a vision and a feel for it. Again, it's a question of sense of security - As long as the players get a feel for the world, a feel for what kind of contributions and mood belong there, they feel safe contributing to it.

If the players' creative visions for the game differ, they will in best cases talk it through and reach a shared vision, and in worst cases fight each other to enforce their vision, or suck it up and feel bitter. This will make the energy and investment from step 1 fly all over the place, crashing into each other, and this is the one source of roleplaying drama.

Once again, a problem with pre-planning your story as a GM: You will have a strong vision that your players do not yet share with you, which makes it harder for your players to approach your vision. Furthermore, you have already spent great investment in your vision, which makes it harder for you as a GM to approach your players ideas of what should happen. In other words: When you have created a cool scene to show your players, you will steer play towards that scene rather than adapt to flow, encourage flow, and go with the flow.

The Big Model places great emphasis on shared vision, look up Social Contract and Creative Agenda in this article. Also, I talk a little more about shared vision here.

No comments:

Post a Comment