Emergent Properties

November 17, 2008

Archived from a discussion on Cultures of Play.

There are at least three ways that unexpected things can occur in play:

1) mechanically mandated emergent events, which occur from the interaction of [player input + mechanical resolution] — i.e. “I tried to shoot him, but (failed Compassion check!) I just couldn’t bring myself to do it”;

2) unexpected interactions of multiple player inputs, emerging from [player1 input + player2 input] — i.e. “I tried to shoot him, but (another player gives input) then he suddenly apologized”;

3) outcomes negotiated through structural procedures, emerging from [player input + process] — i.e. “I tried to shoot him, but (engage structure) in order to do that I had to sacrifice a piece of myself.”

Ritual negotiations methods (Polaris, Mist-Robed Gate, etc.) generally work by combining #2 and #3. It’s also interesting to note that #1 is basically a much more specific version of #3.

2 Responses to “Emergent Properties”

  1. Meserach Says:

    #2 is also a subset of #3 to some extent, though, isn’t it, because the fact that other players can have input (and more pertinently, in what precise ways they can have input) is part of the structural procedures of play.

    This is an interesting take on Brand Robins’ gestalt/emergent distinction. Does the distinction really exist? Does the difference lie in how the input of all the players are structured and interwoven together?

  2. Jonathan Walton Says:

    Well, to some extent, everything in RPGs is a version of #2, since ultimately you’re only accountable to the other players. Nothing else “exists” unless the players instantiate it.

    I don’t like Brand’s labeling of “emergent” just because stuff “emerges” from all kinds of play. It’s just really a question of HOW it emerges. I mean, his distinction clearly describes a split between different play traditions / styles, but I don’t think it exists in a practical way. More of a continuum, as I’m sure Brand would agree.


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