Evolving Interaction Methods 2: Presenting Options

July 19, 2008

Ritualized interaction methods are based on one player doing something that presents another player with a constrained set of choices. For example:

In Polaris, in the midst of the ritual phrase portion, I say: “But only if X happens.” At this point, your options are saying: 1) “And that was how it happened,” 2) “You ask far too much,” 3) “And furthermore, Y happens,” 4) “But only if X happens,” or 5) “It shall not come to pass.”

In Mist-Robed Gate, I hand you a drawn blade and make an explicit demand. At this point, your options are: 1) agreeing to the demand, 2) passing the blade to someone else, deflecting responsibility, 3) stabbing my character sheet in an attempt to kill my character, 4) rejecting all these choices and starting a fight!

In Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan, I say: “My dear! Surely your speed surpasses that of crickets and swallows! Why then were you intimidated by a squad of imperial soldiers?” At this point, your options are: 1) responding to my question in the form “Indeed, [confirmation]! Nevertheless, [declaration]! [Rhetorical question]?” (which doesn’t constrain the content of your choices, just the structure), or 2) responding in the form “Great Khan! [Compliment], but [refusal to divulge details]!” (which is a single choice, mechanically, but open-ended descriptively).

In Waiting for the Queen/Tea at Midnight… um, well, the choices there are a bit complex, since they need a diagram. That’s probably why the game is not as successful at achieving my goals as I would like.

All of these games require you to choose only one of a series of options when someone else asks you to make a choice. However, games like Otherkind and Bliss Stage have given us other options in this regard. Potentially, someone could offer you several choices and you could distribute resources between them based on which ones are more or less important to you. This would basically indicate someone else asking you to demonstrate or reevaluate your priorities, based on the action they took (an action that might change the choices you distribute between).

Some folks on Cultures of Play (schlafmanko and Paul Tevis) recently brought up the difference between having a scene that changes the Status Quo (the plot advances!) vs. having a scene that demonstrates the Status Quo (this is how things are now!). Choices regarding distributing priorities could be either of these, the equivilent of a Dogs in the Vineyard GM asking repeatedly, “How do you feel about X? What about if this happens? What about now? Even if that happens?”

What other things might interaction methods do, aside from asking players to 1) make a choice or 2) rethink/reorder their priorities?

2 Responses to “Evolving Interaction Methods 2: Presenting Options”

  1. schlafmanko Says:

    Hi! I think this isn’t quite what you’re asking about, but it seems like you’re looking at ritualized interaction methods as being fundamentally an interaction between two people. Another thing formalized responses can do is allow multiple people to interact or let individuals interact with multiple people. In these cases, there’s not necessarily any choice involved for the responding player regarding which formalized response she can use, though the details of what happens within the structure of that formal response can be open-ended. I’m thinking for example of A Penny For My Thoughts, where the ritual mechanic of asking two contributing players for their versions of events configures those players’ contributions into a structure that the original asker can navigate. I.e. the ritual mechanic allows one player to create a structured comparison between two other players in much the same way rolling dice does in other contexts — the contributing players are both doing a variant on the same activity, which makes them comparable and sortable. Thinking of kid’s games (Red Rover, I Never, etc.), you can use this kind of interaction ritual to change who has what role, jeopardize someone’s group membership / ranking, re-form groups based on a new criterion, or cause a particular subgroup to interact in a particular way. Not that I have any idea where to go with that.


  2. Interesting. Yeah, Penny is neat in this regard, as is the “Mountain Witch trick” where you fish for provocative content. As in, “In the mirror you see something that cuts you right to the quick, what is it?” That presses for a dramatic response from a player (or more than one player), and is, in effect, asking them to make an open-ended choice, but not one between fixed options. Cool.

    Penny’s solicitation of two different interpretations to dance between is also pretty cool, because the soliciting player is basically asking others to present options, which ties them into the scene and the choices being made without giving them direct input into how the original player reacts to their contributions.

    Your point about ritual interactions adjusting player roles in the game is really interesting as well. I’m not sure exactly how to make that work, but games like Polaris give us a good model of what formalized player roles might look like. I can imagine interactions altering less formal roles too, as in “who describes what in this scene,” “who is this scene about,” etc.

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