27 February, 2010

Vector Theory #7: Lenses, Mirrors and Quantum Burrowing

You've been playing a game for a while, it really doesn't matter whether you've been following the story, or whether the story has developed in response to your own actions. Events follow choices, choices follow events. The sequence has built up over the last few minutes...few hours...few sessions...few weeks.

You seriously begin to consider whether the game has been preplanned by a GM following the storyteller model (vaguely allowing a level of illusionism to make you feel like your decisions really matter), or if the GM has simply been facilitating a story that has developed naturally.

Sometimes the rulebook is pulled out, because people vaguely remember something about die rolls needing to be made in certain situations; they then flip through a couple of pages to make sure that their die rolls are actually valid within the context of the game being played.

Sometimes another player on the table will make a judgment call on the part of their character. It's situation X, and their character tends to react in this way, but that's not really to their advantage at the moment...
• Do they follow their character's typical modus operandi, hoping it might be good for the story or might explain something about their character?
• Do they perform a completely different course of action, to gain more of an advantage from the situation (trying to justify it through meta-game talk later)?
• Do they let a die roll determine if their character simply follows the usual pattern, or deliberately makes a stand against their former ideas to grow as an individual?
• Do they keep quiet, hoping that inaction is better than a bad action?

Where do these choices come from? What can they lead to? What does it say about the player?

Vector theory considers the game/story experience as a point of light; a photon traveling along a path from the introduction to the conclusion.

Along to way, the point of light encounters nodes; from the perspective of the game/story these nodes are choices or points of decision (random or deliberate). Each choice can be imagined as a variable sheet of glass, possibly reflective, maybe not; possibly a converging lens channeling the flow of light in a predetermined direction, but just as easily a diverging lens designed to open the choices in a photon's path.

The development of a good story lies in the placement of these nodes and the methods by which they interact with the story (both the story of the individual and the story of the collective).

Bad placement is simply placing mirrors in the path of the light. No matter what the photon does, it must follow a given path, reflected through the twists of the maze until a conclusion is reached. Good placement is offering a variety of lenses and translucent surfaces that have a chance of letting a particle through (more likely as the node becomes more transparent), reflecting it in a new direction (more likely as the node becomes more reflective) or possibly even terminating it (more likely as the node becomes more matt).

To follow the analogy even further, nodes could be coloured or polarised; eliminating wavelengths of the spectrum as a beam of light passes through them. A pure white beam of light passes through a red node, it turns red. It is then capable of passing through future red nodes with no problem whatsoever; but as soon as it tries to penetrate a blue node, it's stopped dead in its tracks.

Every time a node is encountered, it is placed into play from the real world into the imagined space. Traditionally it is placed by the GM, but it could just as easily be placed by one of the players. Even if it is drawn from the rulebook, it is still placed into the imagined space by one of these two groups (the other option being to simply ignore certain rules under certain circumstances....but that's just also a valid statement about the game being played).

Let's look a the way the nodes link up with the choices.

Mirror (Path Diversion/Automatic Story Twist)

Converging Lens (Node with choices that tend to push the story in a given direction)

Diverging Lens (Node with choices that tend to create a variety of story directions)

Gravity Field (Method by which the story is manipulated in a certain direction regardless of any nodes encountered)

Gravity Well (Story Terminus)

Tinted Lens (When passing through such a node, a permanent marker is left on the story trail. This could be the application of a specific trait to certain party members, or something else that varies future events based on how this node was traversed)

Polarised Lens (Similar to a tinted lens except that it refines a story in a certain way)

Terminus (A "matt finished" node that simply absorbs any incoming events and prevents them from continuing their journey)

Over the next couple of weeks I hope to look at each of these in a bit more detail and see how they are actually used in the course of play.