29 April, 2010

Vector Theory #12: Comparison of Dualities

Good versus Evil.

Light versus Darkness.

Form vs Function.

Truth versus Lies.

When we see a dualism in the world, we naturally try to compare it to other dualisms with which we are familiar. It's easy to say Good equates to Light and Darkness equates to Evil. This is a common theme through a lot of western thought and it has become deeply ingrained in our psyche. But a comparison of the "Good versus Evil" dualism and the "Truth versus Lies" dualism starts to touch on some grey areas. Is it always good to tell the truth, what if you hurt someone's feelings in doing so? What if you expose things that make the world a darker place? Is it better to tell a "white lie" and let things progress more smoothly?

This could be argued semantically for years...and I'm sure it has been.

The reason I'm thinking about this topic is the notion of "Clocks versus Clouds". It has just been brought up in a thread on Storygames. My first response was heartfelt at the time, but it now seems pretty glib, and I've been thinking about the ideas behind it.

Clocks and Clouds may equate to Good and Evil in some people's minds. Those who like regularity will find clocks linked more closely to the "Good", those who value freeform organic chaos will see clouds as "Good". Neither perspective is more right, it's a matter of personal preference. (Just the same as Chaotic Good, Lawful Good, Chatic Evil and Lawful Evil will always be four distinct points of the compass from my mind...none of this 4th Edition D&D crap..but that's a can of worms I'll leave alone for the moment).

What I'm more interested in immediately is how the clocks and clouds dualism links into Vector Theory. I agree with the point that a roleplaying game is made up of moments of cloud play and clock play, no game solely consists of one or the other. I guess that's all a part of my beliefs in quantum mechanics and deeper level science (We're told in junior high school chemistry that all chemicals are bonded by ionic or covalent bonds, and there is a line on the periodic table that can generally be used to determine which sorts of bonds take place. Then in university we're told that there are no truly covalent or ionic bonds, all chemical bonds are actually a blend of the two on a spectrum of extremes). There is no pure black or white in the physical universe, only shades of colour and grey.

Pulling it back to Vector theory, it's an easy dualism split to compare clocks to game nodes, with the intricate mechanisms working off one another to divert to story according to predetermined means, randomised input, vector shade and speed, and a dozen other factors. On the flip side it's easy to equate clouds with story vectors, simply hurtling through the ether pushing the story onward.

But I'm not sure that this easy split is quite right.

It's like the truth/good, lies/evil split. It makes sense in most cases, but there is a significant percentage of cases where the analogy starts to waver.

Are story vectors form? Are game nodes function? This also seems to make sense at an immediate level, but analysis reveals that game nodes incorporate aspects of function when they divert the play experience, and form when their mechanisms specifically impact on the game world.

I'm reminded of the Tao, in which all Yin possesses an aspect of Yang, and all Yang possesses an aspect of Yin. It's an elegant solution to the idea that different dualities can never be fully resolved in the context of one another. But they got out of the dilemma the easy way.

Maybe my original response to the idea of clocks and clouds was simply tainted by overanalysis.

I'm afraid to say that I keep aiming for clocks but keep producing clouds.

Everything I produce aims for the streamlined elegance and mechanical smoothness of clocks, but my inner desire to keep the story moving and interesting means that my clocks are designed with chaotic subroutines to keep the players and the GM on their toes. Individually I'm producing a dozen clocks that impact on one another, and the resulting pattern has effects I can't quantify at the time of writing. Thus I produce clouds from clocks.

...suddenly I'm thinking of neural networks and cloud computing.
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