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Mode Clash: the Root of the In Character (IC) / Out of Character (OoC) 'Problem?'

August 7th, 2007 (05:07 pm)

I'm sorry about how picky this sounds, but I thought I might open this up for consideration. I got the idea from a blog about user interfaces.

You've probably heard it before; I've heard it everywhere. Sometimes you even see it in the rulebook. Some kind of rules or suggestion that all talk at the table is IC. Or to limit OoC talk. Or advice to put a lot of character into you voice when talking IC. The point is, there is a problem here.

Role-playing game mode clash is something like putting A SHOUTED WORD in all capitals and then forgetting the 'caps lock.' Without knowing, everything from there on IS SHOUTING IN CHAT. Are we asking inexperienced gamers to subconsciously know whether someone else is speaking IC or not?

Experienced gamers (or people very familiar with the people they play with) will not have a problem here. Knowing how the group (or the familiar person) speaks when in or out of character makes the process seem effortless. So much so, I'm not sure I've seen much written about it. From games I've read, there are a lot of unformed ideas on how to handle this.

One solution (a rather awkward one) would be like only using the 'shift' key. (My wife has permanently removed her 'caps lock,' by the way.) Let's say you have everyone speaking OoC, raise their hand. Everyone knows it's OoC without even thinking. I've even seen one game that gave hand signals for use in place of all OoC communication.

I haven't really got any fresh or newsworthy ideas what can be done, but just for a moment, consider this a problem of mode clash. I know some people who play in ways they describe as 'immersive' (I make no claim to understand the term; I'm quoting) have a huge problem with mode clash. I've heard it said that it would be like having a bucket of cold water dumped on you in your sleep. Since this is the way they have fun, it is really very unfortunate.

But even typical gamers suffer from this problem. Have you ever seen someone complain that they were 'thinking out loud' and not designating what their chara was about to do? Mode clash.

Now there are still other typical modes I haven't even mentioned (or know about; that's why I like talking to you). For example, a mode where everyone is quiet while the gamemaster sets the scene or when the gamemaster communicates secret information to one player (ever see someone 'taken aside?') or note passing? These are all modes that are rarely even mentioned, yet remain a part of gaming culture.

Hopefully looking into this may lead to more humane role-playing game rules (rituals). I would very much appreciate your sharing any other modes you can think of. Likewise, let's hear ways I haven't mentioned for dealing with modes and mode switching. You guys never fail to come through, I can't wait to hear your thoughts.



(Deleted comment)
Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: January 3rd, 2008 05:34 pm (UTC)
A Longer Footnote

While I understand and appreciate your point; you and yours have no problem with IC and OoC mode clash. Thanks for recognizing that others do make complaints about these. I understand your point about 'All IC' practices, thanks for pointing that out. What I think you might be missing is this is not a discussion about dysfunctionality, but of commerce and design.

As you point out, player engagement is key here. As a designer, I have to consider the audience for my projects; ignoring them is rejecting potentially the target audience. While one can target an audience narrowly if they desire, broad strokes like you've mentioned would lead to automatic alienation for whole segments of the potential buyers.

Thank you for recognizing that every group is different. Do you see the way this conflicts with your earlier statements? It leaves me confused about your message here.

You're right; this isn't an important point for play and even somewhat for design. What it does it address is a common complaint that designers receive. Think of it as a glossary entry or maybe a sidebar. I realize a lot of my posts really are about sidebar issues, but considering the thanks I get for shining any light on these areas, it confirms that writing these into the margins of role-playing game design is still important (especially to inexperienced designers).

On a different tangent, with your string of responses to several of my very old posts, I have to question the sincerity of your interest. So far, all you've done is put down what I've said without even trying to understand it. I can understand one's need for attention; this practice can work quite well in a forum. However, since you and I are the only ones reading these responses, I'd like it if you would take a less combative and dismissive tone.

I write these short articles to draw attention to things which already exist in the industry. I'm never really suggesting solutions to these problems beyond offering different perspectives that others might consider. If you have alternative ideas, please use your own blog; if you want me to comment on your ideas, on your terms, I'd be more than willing to follow up on an email note.


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