2 The Descriptive Framework of the Process Model

2.1 The Definition of Role-Playing as Seen From the Viewpoint of the Process Model

To understand the basis of the Process Model, it is useful to offer a description of how the act of role-playing looks from the viewpoint of the model. To accomplish this, the act of role-playing must first be defined, along with a few formalizations.

For the purpose of the model, role-playing is defined as any act in which an imaginary reality is concurrently created, added to and observed, in such a manner that these component acts feed each other. This definition of role-playing is left intentionally as open as possible, including for example improvisational theater, children's play, collaborative story-telling and imagining alone. It is not all-inclusive, however. The requirement that the creation and observation feed into each other rules out for example computer role-playing games (when they are not used as an aide in imagining) and listening to or reading a story (though not improvising one).

The facts, expectations and hopes about the imagined reality being explored, as experienced by an individual, define a conceptual space referred to as the Imagined Space. When role-playing in a group, the Imagined Spaces of the individual participants overlap to create a Shared Imagined Space (SIS) with regards to which the majority of interaction pertaining to the game is enacted.

The environment in which this interaction is enacted is the Shared Space of Imagining (SSoI), a concept that includes the Shared Imagined Space, but also all the other facts, expectations and intentions concerning the act of role-playing, like unspoken or spoken social contracts pertaining to how the game is played.

The term Shared Imagined Space originates from discussions at the Forge1. The concept of an individual's own Imagined Space is not used there however, and neither is the concept of a Shared Space of Imagining, though a highly similar term in Forge-speak is the Social Contract. For the current definitions of these terms, see the Forge Provisional Glossary[1].

In some texts, particularly in the Nordic tradition of role-playing theory, the term Diegesis is used, but there is debate on if it should be defined the same as Imagined Space[2] or the same as Shared Imagined Space[3]. The term definitions given here are an attempt to better distinguish the concepts from each other.

A description of how the model sees the actual act of role-playing can now be given. The Process Model of Role-Playing sees role-playing first and foremost as a process, something that happens and goes on in a time-frame. Inside this process, multiple concurrent but distinct subprocesses can be seen. Each of these subprocesses revolves around a certain element, creating and consuming it, be it player competition or the exploration of a theme. The qualities manifested in a role-playing session by these various processes are hopefully enjoyable, benefiting the participants in some way. If they do not, they can be considered losses.

The needs of the various processes in terms of techniques and decision-making considerations vary, sometimes coinciding, sometimes being at odds with each other. Processes benefit from methods and other processes that support them, leading to a more optimal gain of benefit, while conflicting processes and methods lead to the poor running of the affected processes, diminishing the benefits gained thereof. The driving idea behind the research presented here is that by understanding and intelligently selecting the processes and methods used, and controlling the circumstances that affect them, wanted benefits can be maximized and unwanted losses minimized.

2.2 Overview of the component types recognized in the Process Model of Role-Playing

The Process Model of role-playing forms around four main types of components and their interactions. The main component types are Circumstances, Methods, Processes and Results. The relationships of these component types are visualized in figure 1.

Figure 1: A flowchart showing the relationships of the components of the model
\psfig{width=2.8in, file=components-flowchart.eps}\end{figure}

A Result is what comes out of the role-playing session, what the people engaging in role-playing get out of it. Wanted Results are called Benefits, while unwanted Results are termed Losses.

Feeding to the Results are a number of Processes, both Social and Role-Playing. Processes describe what actually happens inside a role-playing session. The Role-Playing Processes describe what qualities are being created or explored in the role-playing session and how, while the Social Processes are general forms of social contact that happen to coincide with role-playing, but are not actually tied to it. Both types of Processes describe what the means that lead to the different Results are.

While the Processes are the means to the Results, they are in turn constrained and guided by Circumstances and Methods. Circumstances are any states of affairs that affect how the role-playing group enacts the various processes. Methods on the other hand are the agreed-upon means and rules by which the actions pertaining to the role-playing session are undertaken. The influence is not one-way however. The Processes can affect the Circumstances, while the Methods actually used are usually chosen from an available set depending on the needs of the Processes. Finally, an intentional alteration of Circumstances is a Method, while the choice of Methods can be limited by the prevalent Circumstances.

In the following, the four component types are discussed in more detail, in turn describing the Results, Processes, Circumstances and Methods.

2.3 Results

The term Result in the Process Model describes the final wanted or unwanted outcomes of the interaction of the various Role-Playing Processes. They are further subdivided into Benefits and Losses.

Benefits describe the reasons we role-play, what we gain from participating in the role-playing process. Sample Benefits are for example positive emotional experiences arising from the game, gaining new knowledge from the material explored in the game or getting to know your co-players better through playing with them.

Losses, on the other hand, are harmful Results, created when a role-playing session goes awry. They can be for example boredom arising from an unsuccessful session, the worsening of social relations or unpleasant emotions arising from role-playing.

A suggested normative categorization and further examples of role-playing Results are given in chapter 4.1.

2.4 Processes

The Processes are the core of the model. They describe what actually happens in a role-playing session by identifying various distinct aspects of the role-playing process that are responsible for producing the results of play.

The characteristics of Processes are as follows

The Processes are further subdivided into Role-Playing Processes and Social Processes. Social Processes are general social interactions that could as easily coexist with other activities, and are therefore not given much thought here. Sample role-playing processes are for example exploring the personality of a character, competition among the players using the experience system and number of monsters killed as a measure of competence, or exploring a moral dilemma by playing the various sides of it.

A suggested normative categorization and further examples of Processes are given in chapter 4.2.

2.5 Methods

While Processes tell us what happens in a role-playing session, Methods tell us how it happens. They are any singular techniques, rules or contracts that are used or referred to in connection with a game. A method can be anything from playing in a certain game-world to hitting a random player in the head with a mallet occasionally to keeping your eyes shut the entire session.

The relationship between Methods and Processes is twofold. Firstly, Methods are chosen from those available in accordance with the needs of the various Processes. Secondly and conversely, the Methods used constrain and guide the game so as to promote certain Processes, while hindering others. In doing so, they also affect what Benefits the Processes produce.

The most important method choice in role-playing is discussed below. A few others are given as examples in chapter 5.

2.5.1 Authority over the Shared Imaginary Space

The single most important choices shaping a role-playing session are the Methods used to distribute authority over the Shared Imagined Space. Usually this authority is subdivided into authority over the inner world of player characters and their actions, authority over the actions of other entities of the SIS and finally authority over resolution of events.

In traditional tabletop role-playing games, usually players have absolute control over their character's inner world and their choices of actions, while the gamemaster has similar control over all other aspects of the imaginary reality. Authority over the effects and resolution of stated actions seems often overtly to reside in the rules system, likened to the laws of physics of the imaginary world, but usually actually resides with the gamemaster with his godlike ability to ignore or bend the rules when he wants.

In games of co-operative story-telling without a gamemaster, the final authority over all matters usually rests within the game system, tasked with resolving any conflicts that arise between the storytellers. Usually the drive for social consensus is given a chance before resorting to the system, or is actually facilitated by the system.

In live-action role-playing, particularly of the Nordic tradition, authority is mostly trusted to the likening of the actual laws of nature to the laws of nature of the Shared Imagined Space and the strong drive for silent social consensus, with authority resting on specific rules for necessary mapping discrepancies like injury, death and technology.

2.6 Circumstances

Circumstances are any parameters that affect the game. They differ from Methods in that Methods are chosen and agreed-upon means of interacting with the SIS, while Circumstances exists in and of themselves. Example Circumstances are for example the mood of the players, the amount of outside disturbance in the place where the game is played and the social relationships between the players. An important Circumstance that exists in almost all games is the gaming history, particularly the facts already established pertaining to the SIS.

Circumstances interact with Methods however, where a Method is used to change a Circumstance. So, while the number of players should be considered a Circumstance, changing the number of players dynamically in response to some in-game situation is a Method.


... Forge1
Eetu Mäkelä 2005-03-02