In game ‘truth’, as if the truth wasn’t a white eared elephant already

I was browsing through Lumpleys site

I read the line “You need to have a system whereby narration becomes in-game truth.” (it’s from a few years back) and it struck me, atleast with what I know today, how wrong that is. It probably sounds all naturaley and roleplayeyeyey and what-not, but that’s what I mean – it takes what I know today to just see the wrong (though I realise I’m one line quoting).

The reference to ‘truth’ is the uncomfortable seat of it all. If I started talking to you about this tortoise, right, and this hare, right, who decide to have a race – am I talking any kind of truth to you? Of course bloody not, you know I’m telling one of them old stories where everything in it is just part of conveying a central moral.

See, in the past if I’d heard roleplayers talk about truth in the game, I’d think they were just being a bit over the top with their wording. But seriously, roleplayers actually refer to truth in their game. Perhaps, if your lucky, they’ll add the prefix ‘in game’ before the truth. But ultimately, ULTIMATELY, they are ACTUALLY talking about the truth. No metaphor, no funny amorphasized animals used to convey a moral or a message or even a question – they actually refer to fik’n truth existing in the game.

It’s bizarre – it’s like they can’t work out who wins the race, rabbit or hare, unless they treat the shared ideas of rabbit and hare as ‘truth’. It’s as if they live in a parralel world where stories are started, then just exist in a flux state that needs to be resolved by some truth internal to them. Actually, I suppose that is where most roleplayers live – the bald truth of stories seems to evade them. If someone pulls their pockets out, then flops out their willy calling ‘White eared elephant!’ the ‘source’ of the elephant is pretty bloody obvious. But to a roleplayer, the rabbit and hare are some sort of creature that exists – they aren’t an extension of some other human, like the white eared elephant is, no, somehow the rabbit and hare just exist. The essential idea that they are puppets and someone has their hand up their bums, completely slips the mind of the average roleplayer – even when it’s their hand up the puppets bum. At those points, they tend to wonder why play is dull and lifeless, seemingly unable to see that the only hand in the puppet is theirs.

Anyway, I’m cruel – I’m pulling out the laser cutter on one line. But it’s like finding a landmine in a third world country – sure, there are millions more, why am I picking on this one being planted here? I guess I gotta take things in bite sized chunks.

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17 thoughts on “In game ‘truth’, as if the truth wasn’t a white eared elephant already

  1. The matter of truth has been discussed to some length in philosophy, epistemology to be more precise.

    The correspondence theory of truth states that in order for some proposition (like “that car is red”) to be true it must correspond with the real world. Obviously, this is a bad definition when it comes to truth in a fictinal world, because the real world does not correspond to the fictional world. However, one could alter this definition so as to make it refer to another fictional world, like Middle-Earth, though it would not be unproblematic.

    The coherence theory of truth states that a given proposition is true when it is consistent with other true propisitions. One obviously needs some baseline for coherency to make sense as a concept. After that has been established, the coherence theory can easily be applied to roleplaying. One must note that it does not provide the truth, but rather several (usually: infinite) options, any of which can be true, but all of which can’t.

    I’d argue that notion of truth within fiction is useful, because almost all roleplay, if not all of it, needs somewhat consistent fiction in order to work properly.

  2. “However, one could alter this definition…”
    I think this is fulcrum.

    There’s a logistical problem here in that you actually have to ask people if they want to change whatever definition. If they don’t – well, any structure you try and balance on this gets a bullet in the head as soon as someone declines to support the definition. Most people will say the red car is red because they don’t feel they have a choice about reality. But in terms of fiction, most people feel they have a choice…except roleplayers, as I’ve been refering to. If they hear the story of a vase being pushed off a balcony, they seem to feel they don’t have the ability consent or not consent to it falling and smashing – it happens with or without their consent.

    But I digress n’ stuff. Your definition changing – it requires consent. Constantly – every second, basically. It’s incredibly brittle – the only strength it has, is that if someone does something over and over about a million times, it becomes pure reflex.

    “I’d argue that notion of truth within fiction is useful, because almost all roleplay, if not all of it, needs somewhat consistent fiction in order to work properly.”
    But before that, it needs someone to actually consent to play. Sure, convincing them it needs some kinda truth is interesting, but if they realise that “I walk and this whole thing flops over” then they’ll realise it doesn’t hinge on any truth, it just hinges on bums on seats. Thus the fiction doesn’t need ‘truth’ to function, it just needs people not leaving. As it always has.

  3. 1. Of course all roleplay requires people to play. This does not imply that a notion of what is or is not true within the fiction suddenly becomes irrelevant. These two things are in no way mutually exclusive. I can’t see how they contradict each other, at least.

    2. I have no idea what fulcrum means in this context.

    Anyway: When I say “alter a definition”, I mean to simply use another one. This is something completely intuitive to people. Like, if we are playing LotR-derived rpg and I say that there are orcs in the forest, it is obvious that I talk about the fiction and the truth value of the proposition must be judged with regards to the fiction. No sane person I know would interpret it as meaning that there are orcs in that forest over there, that one I can see from the window.

    People who stop consenting that we can meaningfully talk about a fictional reality are unable to roleplay, pure and simple. I’d go as far as to say they are unable to function in modern society, given the large role fiction plays in at least my life.

    If they hear the story of a vase being pushed off a balcony, they seem to feel they don’t have the ability consent or not consent to it falling and smashing – it happens with or without their consent.

    I think this statement requires more assumptions to make sense.

    Are we talking about a group roleplaying and someone, say, pushing a vase off a balcony?

    If so, all players I know would have no trouble saying “I grab it so it does not shatter.” or “I use a foo point: There is something soft below the window and the vase does not shatter.”

    Or is the point that the players don’t consciously think in play that they can at any point say “I don’t want that to happen. I won’t play if the vase breaks.”

    I am somewhat confused about your actual argument, here. Could you talk about the actual argument you are making, instead of vague examples?

  4. “1. Of course all roleplay requires people to play. This does not imply that a notion of what is or is not true within the fiction suddenly becomes irrelevant. These two things are in no way mutually exclusive. I can’t see how they contradict each other, at least.”

    If there’s a red car in front of my house, it doesn’t cease to exist if no one pays attention to it. But with your orcs, if everyone just walks away from the table, then there is nothing there once everyone leaves. With the red car, when everyone leaves, theres still something there. With your orcs, when everyone leaves, there is nothing but thin air.

    Doesn’t that seem a contradiction to you? That with one, something still exists even when everyone ignores it. While with the other, once everyone ignores it, there is nothing – it didn’t go away, it never existed to begin with. Surely that’s a big difference???

    “When I say “alter a definition”, I mean to simply use another one. This is something completely intuitive to people. Like, if we are playing LotR-derived rpg and I say that there are orcs in the forest, it is obvious that I talk about the fiction and the truth value of the proposition must be judged with regards to the fiction. No sane person I know would interpret it as meaning that there are orcs in that forest over there, that one I can see from the window.”

    Must be judged with regards to the fiction?

    Why must I? Because you’ll feel a deep sense of unease and perhaps betrayal if I simply ignore that you said the words ‘there are orcs in the forest’?

    Sure, you’ll feel unease and perhaps betrayal – but those emotions hardly compel me so that I MUST judge them in regards to the fiction. Rather, purely on whim, I listen to your words and think ‘Hey, yeah, I’ll treat it as if in this story, there are orcs in the woods – what the hell, sounds like a lark, I’ll give it a go’.

    Would you still use the word ‘Must’ in “the truth value of the proposition must be judged with regards to the fiction.”??

    There is no must, surely? I’m not about to think your refering to orcs in a real wood. What I’m saying, is that I might just decide to stop listening to your statement (of course at that point I should be polite and leave the activity – but lets say I’m not polite – I stay, even though I just ignored your statement). There is no ‘must’, surely? There’s just me deciding not to consent, which is easy enough to do, and me not being polite and leaving, which is also easy enough to do. There’s no compelling force involved at all, surely?

    “People who stop consenting that we can meaningfully talk about a fictional reality are unable to roleplay, pure and simple. I’d go as far as to say they are unable to function in modern society, given the large role fiction plays in at least my life.”

    What if they stop consenting here and there, when they can get away with it? Specifically when other people think they are consenting to the greater fiction, but really they are ignoring it when it benefits them (quickie example, the reporter who ignores a ‘staff only’ sign, goes in and gets the scoop)?

    I know you think they couldn’t function in society or roleplay if they didn’t continually consent – but it’s not true. You can easily evaluate what would happen if you didn’t consent at any given point, and if you can stop consenting yet reap the physical benefits of everyone else continuing to consent, then you drop out of the consensual halucination and help yourself to various physical benefits. It’s easy, and if you think it’s impossible when it’s all too easy to do, you’ll never know I’m doing it.

    I’ll make a new post for the vase (I’ll probably make a whole new entry soon – this is larger than expected).

  5. Or is the point that the players don’t consciously think in play that they can at any point say “I don’t want that to happen. I won’t play if the vase breaks.”
    That’d be the arguement I’m getting at, except rather than the threat ‘I wont play if it breaks’ it’s that most roleplayers are unable to think ‘Meh, the whole vase breaking thing doesn’t tickle my fancy – I’ll just ignore that whole bit’. It’s as if most roleplayers are compelled to listen whether they like it or not. Perhaps one real life example is where in one group a certain PC was killed in play. Then myself and that player played in another group, with the PC alive and well – a member from the other group was shocked and appalled upon learning this ‘That PC is dead!!!!’, as if there was some compulsion to listen to that games results in any other game me or my friend play in.

    But “I don’t want that to happen. I won’t play if the vase breaks.” is close enough to what I’m saying. It’s rather comforting that you can compose that thought about what you’d choose – I think alot of roleplayers can’t.

    So you pretty much got the right of it, and that understanding makes me feel warm and fuzzy :). Did you have any further questions?

  6. On vases: I figured it to be obvious that one can simply not consent to something happening in the fiction. Simply ignoring something will, however, lead to problems if you are not explicit about it. Roleplaying is about creating a shared fiction. Serious contradictions within personal fictions will create problems in play. (Minor contradictions are well and good and can’t be avoided.)
    That is: Within the context of functional roleplaying, simply ignoring something about the fiction is not really an option.

    I have no idea where you have discovered this population of “most roleplayers” unable to understand this. I must admit to not have interviewed people about the subject, but I have at least never experienced problems with this.

    Maybe it was more relevant in the age where people routinely played single character in several games? I hear people regularly did that sort of thing sometimes in the past. Maybe they still do, I don’t know, but not around here.

  7. About orcs: I can keep thinking about them even when you do not. (See also: Reading books.) This means that they exist on some level (that of me thinking about them, at least). All of this is likely to turn into deep philosophical discussion very quickly, which is okay with me.

    Must be judged with regards to the fiction?

    Why must I? Because you’ll feel a deep sense of unease and perhaps betrayal if I simply ignore that you said the words ‘there are orcs in the forest’?

    Must be judged wrt the fiction, as opposed to our world. You are still considering them wrt the fiction when you are deciding to not accept them into the fiction. I would be concerned if you started arguing that no, orcs don’t exist, so saying that they are in those woods there is stupid. Or you went hiding in basement lest the orcs eat you.

    Which means that at least this particular discussion is miscommunication.

  8. Well, you agree you can simply not consent when it comes to something happening in the fiction.

    But then you say “…simply ignoring something about the fiction is not really an option.”.

    The roleplayers I know of would make that statement, then use it to insist that a shared truth is needed for play. If they get to establish that, then since shared truth is needed for play, that’d ‘obviously’ mean play is about shared truth. And since play is ‘obviously’ about shared truth, there must actually be a truth involved. (it’s like two researchers who keep referencing each others work as if they are actually drawing on outside sources).

    Most seem to get wrapped up in that line of logic. As you can see, it’s a complicated enough ball of twisted string that not many people would unravel it on first contact. And so it spreads, I would say. Other than that, yup, I don’t have surveys – this is a ‘hey, keep in mind this potential problem’ piece.

  9. I should be explicit about the error I percieve; “…simply ignoring something about the fiction is not really an option.”
    I see is the assumption that ignoring the fiction will make the activity crash and burn.

    I’ll agree the activity can crash and burn. But exactly what makes it crash and burn – well, ‘ignoring the fiction’ is merely a hypothesis as to why it might crash. It’s just one hypthesis out of dozens that could be proposed, and it hasn’t gone through any testing.

  10. Well, let us test the hypothesis.

    Obviously, if we have wildy different fictions in mind, like I am thinking about Star Wars and you about Greek mythology, and I say that you see a jedi with a lightsaber charging the droids, and there are no droids in the fiction you envision (and no jedi or lightsabers, either), so you just say that Perseus is hiding behind the boulder as the minotaur moves closer, trying to pinpoint him, we are not really playing the same game.

    We are not accepting anything the other one claims as part of our fiction. There is no interaction between our fictions. I would not call this roleplay, personally.

    The above is an example. But it seems clear that the more if we accept of the fiction the other person is making, the more we are playing together, and the less dissonance there will be.

    Do note that when somebody says that they do not like some portion of the fiction and would like to / insist it to be changed, they are not ignoring the fiction, they are engaging with it.

    Also: If one accepts the reasoning that “since shared truth is needed for play, that’d ‘obviously’ mean play is about shared truth”, there is no reason to not accept the following line of reasoning: Since all dogs have a tail, obviously everything with a tail is a dog.

  11. C’mon, surely you don’t see that example as genuine human relations going on? You think I’d just keep going on with my greek stuff after your said your droid stuff? Seriously, you’d estimate that’s how we’d interact together?

    This is how I’d see it happening
    You: *You talk all your starwars stuff*
    Me: *Thinks: WTF! Oh man, he is talking something different…but I like star wars. Hmmm, I’m gunna ditch my whole greek thing and go with his flow tonight* I then add some star wars stuff, to do with droids even.

    Here the game hasn’t crashed and burned yet, so the hypothesis still remains untested and unproven. Frankly, if this keeps occuring, I see that it’d never crash and burn (we’d get tired and stop at some point from fatigue, but you wouldn’t say that’s a crash and burn I’d imagine). IF it kept going like that till we stop from fatigue, then the differing fictions – had absolutely no effect on whether play crashes and burns.

    Alternate path: Me: *Thinks, WTF!? Oh man, is he talking something different. I hate star wars!* “Hmmm, dude, I think you had something completely different in mind. I’m sorry, I don’t want to play – want to watch a movie? Or you guys play in here and I’ll watch something in the other room?”

    Here – the game does crash to an ending – but that’s not due to clashing fiction – it’s because I don’t like star wars and I don’t want to play.

    That’s my test of the hypothesis. I…just would not go on about greek stuff, after you said all the star wars stuff. I really wouldn’t – that’d be totally unnatural. Are you assured of that – because I’m not faking how I’d respond just to make a point – surely no one in the world would just go on about the greek stuff directly after your star wars stuff?

    Assuming you take my reaction to be natural, the hypothesis seems disproved – it all seems to hinge on whether I like whatever you talk about first, and if I don’t, I just stop playing.

  12. Small children sometimes play in parallel such that they are in the same place, maybe even using the same toys, but their fictions are very distinct. Other than that, no, I don’t see it as realistic behaviour.

    In your example the fiction is not ignored. It is considered, weighted, and then acted upon (by embracing it or declining it). This means that it tells nothing about the hypothesis. (Technically, propositions of the form “If something untrue, then whatever.” are always true, but that is kinda besides the point.)

    I’ll still keep my stance that simply ignoring bits of fiction is not suitable, assuming one wants functional roleplay. Do you still disagree? (This with the caveat that small bits of fiction can and will be ignored due to inattendance, misunderstanding, forgetfulness, … The small bits usually don’t matter, but might cause dissonance in play. Large parts do matter.)

  13. It doesn’t tell us nothing about the hypothesis – you thought your example would prove the hypothesis. You were incorrect – it did not prove or disprove it. You thought the example would prove the hypothesis but now (presumably) you think it neither proves nor disproves the hypothesis. The hypothesis has had one of the legs that is usually used to prove it, removed (its been replaced with a ‘neither proves nor disproves’ leg). There’s our result that we worked on together.

    “I’ll still keep my stance that simply ignoring bits of fiction is not suitable, assuming one wants functional roleplay. Do you still disagree? ”
    I disagree, as it is just a symptom. It’s like saying cars stop moving/rust up if the outer cover is removed, therefore what fuels a car is it’s outer cover.

    Here, the fiction matching does not fuel roleplay and make it go – the fuel is that people like the stuff being talked about. The fiction matching is nice to have, I’ll fully admit, and may even prevent rusting, but it is not the fuel.

  14. About hypothesis: You neatly avoided it. You did not say if the activity I described, no matter how unnatural, is roleplay. Instead, you said that it does not happen in the real world. This leaves the hypothesis untouched.

    In other words: You attacked the assumptions of the hypothesis, not the hypothesis itself. “If moon is cheese, then elephants can fly.” is a true sentence, assuming moon is not cheese. This is basic logic. Saying that “Moon is not cheese” does nothing to disprove the hypothesis that if moon were cheese, then elephants could fly.

    About ignoring fiction: I am not saying that ignoring fiction is the only way to kill roleplay, or the most fundamental way; only that it is one way. A car without tires is not very useful, even if the tires do not fuel the car.

    Further, I think I can roleplay even if the fiction is displeasing for whatever reason. It will not be very enjoyable, but there is nothing stopping me from doing it, if I for some peculiar reason wanted to. If we are only talking about roleplay where people actually enjoy themselves, this is not a relevant point.

    Speaking of which; when you say “roleplay”, what do you mean? My default definition is here: http://thanuir.wordpress.com/2007/11/20/defining-roleplaying/

  15. Your right, the hypothesis is untouched – neither proved not disproved. You thought you could prove it, but you could neither prove nor disprove it with the evidence you gave.

    Don’t get me wrong – your hypothesis has not been disproved at all. BUT the evidence you thought could prove it with ended up doing nothing either way. That evidence is disproved, in terms of it’s usefulness – it didn’t do anything in terms of proving or disproving. We tried one piece of evidence as a proving method, it failed to do anything, we can move on from it – that’s the result. While the main hypothesis isn’t touched yet, just as you say.

    “About ignoring fiction: I am not saying that ignoring fiction is the only way to kill roleplay, or the most fundamental way; only that it is one way. A car without tires is not very useful, even if the tires do not fuel the car.”
    Well, we can agree on that. But that doesn’t contradict my post to begin with – I argued that the line ““You need to have a system whereby narration becomes in-game truth.” was missplaced. In game truth is like having really good tires – useful, but it is not the most fundimental thing required, as you seem to agree. I will nod at the practicality of good tires, as a conciliatory agreement 🙂

  16. Happy faces! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Edit: Awww, it seems to be making the happy faces go wrong and if I put larger spaces between them, it deletes them entirely! Awwwwww….

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