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Shared Imaginary Space - Finally!

February 28th, 2007 (11:33 am)

current location: Back in the Saddle Again
current mood: Typical
current song: MPR vs Elections

This is Your Brain...

As I understand brain / mind research, it works like this: you brain creates an internal model of what's going on around you. This model has a kind of scaling factor (more on that later) that suggests a level of detail and information. Now, when you experience something, the stimuli are interpreted into changes in the model. This often calls for a certain loss of detail in the process.

For example, say you're driving down the street at a fair clip. Your internal model will reflect the street, any obstacles (like parked cars or pedestrians) and other cars. Since you're speeding at the moment, the houses around you aren't of any interest beyond colouring your model as 'in a neighborhood.' If you're really driving too fast, other cars will be simplified to just 'car' or 'red car.'

Now, when you come to a stoplight, you model expands (scales down as it were). You notice the red car in front of you is a hatchback with rust around the license plate and wheel wells, you see that there is a hardware store on the corner and some children walking on the broken sidewalk parallel to you. You've basically dropped from 'racing' scale to 'personal' scale (the scale you might model when walking).

Let's say that the radio in your car mentions something that's happening in Shanghai, for a moment your senses are ignored and you scale up to 'world economics' level, considering how what happened in Shanghai affects you personally (which scaled up is, 'the country you live in'). Next your cell phone rings and you speak to your boss about where you are. You scale to a 'private' meeting level where you are your job and benefits; your boss wants a status report on a project which you model as a single unit (rather than the numerous tasks that make it up).

Now the light changes and you missed it, your model has to suddenly shift scales again.

...On Dreams

When you dream, this model is active once again. But things are much, much stranger. You find yourself scaled to talking with your boss again. A passing thought makes you scale down to 'personal' level and you really look at your boss. The thing is, this isn't really happening, so your brain picks out some random memory (usually a more familiar or favorite one) that matches 'boss @ personal scale.' Suddenly you realize your boss is standing there in the silly looking golfing outfit he wore last year. This makes you think about clothing and you 'look' down. Now your brain fishes up a memory at an even lower scale, kind of an 'internal profile.' Lucky you, it's remembering the last time you looked into a mirror prior to showering; you're naked! But somehow it doesn't bother you to be naked in front of your boss; it's a dream after all.

Okay, I've spent some time theorizing about all this and I believe that the brain stores these 'model components' like individual packets of information. When dreaming, rather than relying on sensing what's out there and comparing it with what you expect (before adding it to your internal model), your brain just grabs one of these that is most easy or interesting for it to bring up.

...On Role-Playing Gaming

To take this back to gaming, when someone says, "You see a grassy field with a shining castle in the distance," each person at the table focuses on an 'artificial' internal model composed of packets that the words implied. This means that no two of them are the same, yet none of them violate the terms they were communicated in. Mine may be a ruined gothic castle and yours might resemble Neuschwanstein, but they're both castles. As play moves into this landscape, like normal internal modeling, the mind interprets what is communicated into its internal model. (Yes, miscommunication can lead to conflicting models when your model matches what is said, but the speaker assumed some implications that you didn't get.)

You can see how the neuro-typical mind is well-equipped for role-playing gaming in this way.

A long time ago, I coined a phrase for this 'meeting of the minds.' I called the terms which everyone assimilated into each of their internal models, Shared Imaginary Space. Ah the hubris of youth; I thought it was relatively clear what I meant, but inventorying the discussions on this topic make it clear that a certain amount of social capital was up for grabs for whomever could establish themselves as 'right' about it. I want to discuss role-playing games without the battle over 'rightness' social capital.

Anyway, I've always liked the GNS (but not Ron Edwards' Big Model) for the way it talks about consistent goal-based action within the Shared Imaginary Space. I'm really fascinated by Moyra Turkington's Socket Theory for how it talks about what the individual brings to the Shared Imaginary Space and what they look to get from it. But these only scratch the surface.....


p.s. No, I haven't read any of the research on the brain I refer to. I don't know any of the actual terms. I haven't a clue if I'm even understanding the ideas as researched. All I'm doing is basing the lay-understandings I've been given on the experiences I've had. Your Mileage May Vary!

p.p.s. I hate YMMV; it reminds me too much of the Tetragrammaton, YHWH. I don't go there. :)


Posted by: vbwyrde (vbwyrde)
Posted at: March 1st, 2007 12:19 am (UTC)
Dreams & RPGs

Interesting thoughts, Fang, thanks.

What it makes me wonder about are the parallels between RPG and dreaming. In a dream you play out your role in the dream much like you play your role in an RPG, though I think with a great deal more conscious control in the RPG. But what about the subconscious parallels? I have a feeling there's gold in that thar hill.


Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: March 1st, 2007 02:14 am (UTC)
Re: Dreams & RPGs

Well, you could try lucid dreaming if you wanted to get beyond the 'as you' role. (They say all you need to do is look at your hands in a dream and it becomes a lucid dream; so far no luck for me.)

I think you're right about the subconscious parallels; I think they might be a great place to mine for sockets ala Moyra.


Posted by: vbwyrde (vbwyrde)
Posted at: March 1st, 2007 03:37 am (UTC)
Re: Dreams & RPGs

Really. I think there is so much more to RPGing than meets the eye... btw, did you ever read a book called "Coyote Wisdom" by Lewis Mehl-Madrona? It begins to touch on the topic through the aspect of story telling... What the book is about is the connection between the psyche, the body, and the stories we tell ourselves about our selves. The link between this and RPGing is something I'd like to explore more because I feel strongly that there is gold there: true gold, and mythril, and more... I'm fascinated by the concept of RPGs as a subliminal (subconscious) link to the Jungian Archetypes within our psyches: stories we tell ourselves about ourselves while we play. If I think about it this way, the roles I've played in the various Worlds I've played in have been so very illuminating to me. How much do the characters I've played portray facets of my own soul or my inner vision of who I am? And what does that say about me? And what does that, or could that, mean for Gamesmasters?

- VB

Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: March 1st, 2007 03:50 am (UTC)
Re: Dreams & RPGs

Whoa there!

If you wanna talk RPGs as storytelling, try Story Games, Plays Well or of course The Forge. That's very well covered in those fora. As such, I'm restricting myself to the larger segment of the tabletop gaming that has no focus on storytelling.

I'm actually rather tired of it. If you think storytelling and role-playing gaming are inseparable, then I invite you to go there. I don't want to discuss it here.

All that aside, I agree with you; there's gold in them thar hills (fora). :)


Posted by: vbwyrde (vbwyrde)
Posted at: March 6th, 2007 09:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Dreams & RPGs

No worries. I'm aquainted with the idea that RPG players have variable interests and some prefer to play what I think of as a technical game focusing on the so-called "Crunch" aspect rather than the story. That can definitely be fun - something like Chess on steroids with dice/luck thrown in for good measure. I'm not saying I think the two are inseperable. My interests however have always been more in the direction of the character/story aspect. In any case I think there is a lot to explore in that space, and that's where I happen to be digging at this point. Which isn't to say that I've never spent time tooling around with the mechanics - I definitely have packed in a few man years on that as well. But for now, story has captured my attention because I find that aspect really quite fascinating. :)

Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: March 6th, 2007 10:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Dreams & RPGs

I hate to say it, but you're implying a false dichotomy between mechanical play and "character/story" play.

The reason I hate to is because I don't generally play either way.

See, I'm a 'character without story' player. Moyra does a much better job explaining it starting in her post about what sockets players can hook up to.

I'm not particularly interested in playing to / with / under a story's theme. My interest is the action I get involved in.

Now if you want to say that "character/story" play doesn't require themes and messages, you'd better think carefully. Without any thematic structure, a 'story' is merely a narrative retelling of events. And there aren't any role-playing games that don't have that.

Whew! Watta day! No offense or argument intended; I'm not feeling very careful or expressive today.


Posted by: vbwyrde (vbwyrde)
Posted at: March 7th, 2007 03:31 am (UTC)
Re: Dreams & RPGs

That's cool. I think we all have our preferences and its only fair to simply let people enjoy the game however they like. I'm into the underlying story and my relationship to it and the other characters. The subliminal meaning of these relationships, interweaving plots and symbols fascinates me. That's my thing.

Might I ask you though - if you felt that the story was really worthwhile, really fascinating, as good as or better say than Tolkien, would it fail to enhance your experience of the game?

As for the 'no offense or argument intended', that's quite all right, Sir Fang. I never get the impression from you that you are doing anything other than making polite corrections to my viewpoints, and trying to explore ideas from as many angles as you possibly can. That's great. I respect that. It's why I continue return to your site, whereas others I have abandoned for being ... well, you know, argumentative to a degree that dissolves discourse and crushes the greater dialectic. Here, however, I sense that one can present ideas, even difficult ones, and expect to get a reasonably fair hearing, and some thoughtful comments in return. It's a good thing. Thank you.

Posted by: M (eyebeams)
Posted at: March 8th, 2007 03:29 pm (UTC)

I think the problem is that SIS actively hinders the kind of stuff you're talking about. If you invented a term called the "game model" and talked about how it was an individual vision of the game that did not contradict explicit statements in play, then you'd have something about a million times better than SIS, which you would then augment with sockets and other preferences to get a larger functioning picture. Basically, preferences augment the game model so that it is broadly accessible.

See how we've just invented a great technique without SIS?

Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: March 8th, 2007 04:55 pm (UTC)
In the Past

Thanks Malcolm; that is a great technique. The problem is that I don't use SIS, I only invented it. (Like the guy who developed the office cubicle – he's still sorry he did that.) This post was more of a 'what I meant was...' statement.

Shortly after people took to using it, I saw a lot of problems. "Shared Space of Imagining" pretty much pounded the last nail in it's coffin as far as I'm concerned.

The problem, much like my problem with jargon in general, is the level of polysemy (and to some extent metonymy) involved. While not being very clear, you clearly bring a new polysemous sense to SIS, demonstrating the severe limitations of the phrase. (Simply: we understand the terms differently.)

For a while, I considered using 'diegesis' for the subject we're alluding to. Heck, other game designers have so adopted it since then that they've added that to Wikipedia. However, instead of polysemy, it is too limited and not well understood. While it can be used as a noun, it really looks like a word that describes a process. While I consider gaming a process, describing our subject as such presupposes a great deal about it.

Of late, I've been changing my attitude about jargon and I've also been looking into metaphors that can be more robust descriptions of what was supposed to be described by SIS. My favorite of the moment is the river metaphor. On a map, a river is a blue line and you consider it in its totality; on the shore, it is a movement of water, neither the H2O nor the bed are the river, but there it is.

Even so, I believe I'm going to go back to referring to this idea as "the play of the game" and "ongoing play." Does that sound unclear enough?


Posted by: M (eyebeams)
Posted at: March 9th, 2007 10:46 am (UTC)
Re: In the Past

I have some appreciation for diegesis, but it seems to exist to plug into a model where we contrast it with mimesis, and I don't want to do that because it isolates immersion (a mimetic process) again.

There does need to be some representation of mechanical vs. non-mechanical threads in the narrative (not Narrative) though. I was thinking of simulacra, but it occurs to me that the big problem of rpgs is that the simulacrum is actually the system, and it is the story that is crumbling away.

Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: March 9th, 2007 02:24 pm (UTC)
Re: In the Past

That's a really good point and something I'm really going to have to consider carefully.

May I ask a question out of curiosity? Do you see the dichotomies of mechanical vs non-mechanical as well as system vs story (which don't map one-to-one) as each all inclusive? Or are there things outside of either of these pairings?

Thanks for the information!


Posted by: M (eyebeams)
Posted at: March 9th, 2007 09:57 pm (UTC)
Re: In the Past

Is that the inescapable dichotomy? My gut says "no" because of the existence of borderline cases where the trait exists in-world, and the speculative physics/metaphysics of asking what game mechanics say about the story world. As for something that is somewhat separate from either category, I'd say that even though we often lump it in with rules, player customs and procedures (what is called the social contract and other, less map-able elements) represent a possible third chunk of stuff.

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