Dealing with agency and retcon (in semi sandbox)

Pedantic

Legend
would you say that an accurrate summary of the conflict between narrative and ludic agency is that in your ability to control and declare the stakes of a situation going directly to the resolution of that you've bypassed any situation where you had control of your character to weigh their options, the risks and benefits and make a choice between them?
I'd avoid using "character" to prevent confusion, as this is very much a player facing concern, and I don't think we're dealing with a TTRPG specific concept. This isn't related to the player/character relationship, this is entirely down to gameplay decision making. There are very high ludic agency games that are entirely abstract, like Go.

I don't actually think stake setting is the problem either, really. It's much more to do with how quickly one iterates that loop, and how much space there is for different sets of actions between each time you evaluate results. Put simply, I'd say you need enough space between setting a victory condition and evaluating it to declare multiple actions, those actions need to result in divergent board states, and those actions need to have differing impacts on success/failure for agency to be possible. Then you can start quibbling over how different/complicated/numerous the optimization cases need to be, and you're getting into sliding scale territory.

The narrative concern is assuring the player that what they are interested in is at stake in a conflict and might even extend to ensuring the player has the ability to affect the outcome of a conflict. The ludic concern is assuring the player that their choices will affect the evaluation of the conflict. You could do the former without evaluation at all or with completely arbitrary evaluation; imagine a system you provide an intent that defines success and a stake that defines failure and resolve every check with a coin toss.

Ludic agency requires space before evaluation where the player can input actions, and that different sequences of actions influence evaluation differently, and that ideally more than 1 sequence of actions that succeed and or fail.
 

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I'd avoid using "character" to prevent confusion, as this is very much a player facing concern, and I don't think we're dealing with a TTRPG specific concept. This isn't related to the player/character relationship, this is entirely down to gameplay decision making. There are very high ludic agency games that are entirely abstract, like Go.

I don't actually think stake setting is the problem either, really. It's much more to do with how quickly one iterates that loop, and how much space there is for different sets of actions between each time you evaluate results. Put simply, I'd say you need enough space between setting a victory condition and evaluating it to declare multiple actions, those actions need to result in divergent board states, and those actions need to have differing impacts on success/failure for agency to be possible. Then you can start quibbling over how different/complicated/numerous the optimization cases need to be, and you're getting into sliding scale territory.

The narrative concern is assuring the player that what they are interested in is at stake in a conflict and might even extend to ensuring the player has the ability to affect the outcome of a conflict. The ludic concern is assuring the player that their choices will affect the evaluation of the conflict. You could do the former without evaluation at all or with completely arbitrary evaluation; imagine a system you provide an intent that defines success and a stake that defines failure and resolve every check with a coin toss.

Ludic agency requires space before evaluation where the player can input actions, and that different sequences of actions influence evaluation differently, and that ideally more than 1 sequence of actions that succeed and or fail.
OK, but in an actual RPG how do you separate these? Lets take hit points, they are obviously important in a 'game' sense, you will make decisions based on how many your character has available, and they obviously are important in gauging whether you are winning or losing. They're also inexorably tied to narrative factors. The water I just fell into is icy cold, I start taking damage. This follows from the description of the environment I'm in (IE arctic winter). Now, you can call ALL of this 'game state' but then is the geographic layout of the campaign world also game state? Is the fact that you are employed by the King of Gotland (and thus found in this inclement clime) game state? I mean, pretty soon everything is game state, even the story of how you got here! That's fine, but now its just a meaningless label because it refers to everything.

I mean, even the most trivially weighty 'color' in the game could turn out to be game state by the above argument, as maybe its significant to an orc that your tabard is blue and gold instead of red and white, something you never even bothered to establish!

The two things are inextricably intermingled in any meaningful RPG, even classic DC play in many cases.
 

I don't necessarily know we're in disagreement here, though I am somewhat unclear on what "narrative trajectory" means here. Given a board state and a goal, trying to best achieve that goal (and given the nature of TTRPGs, possible other, assumed subsequent goals) is the play loop, certainly.

I don't think I have sufficient understanding of your point to dispute this. I think what you're calling narrative trajectory is the same thing I'm discussing when players go about declaring goals? I agree that assessment is necessary for gameplay: you need a metric to be able to produce a strategy, outside of pure exploration play, which I think is a pretty unstable state that generally devolves into more conventional play quickly. That is, using a mechanic for its own sake without pursuing a goal, which tends to quickly become adding a requirement to use that mechanic to some other goal.

You're describing a few different things here, none of which I would consider narrative. Adding a meta-game (a tournament) to a game changes the results necessarily. Strategies have to span multiple, repeated plays, which moves the game away from optimization to game theory. To be completely honest with you, I find poker deeply frustrating for the same reason I find fighting games frustrating: the proposed level of mechanical skill necessary to play the "actual game" is huge, and the activity isn't particularly interesting without being played at that level. That, and I think most gambling games rely on emotional valence of loss/risk tied to money to portray themselves as more interesting than they are. That's a pretty divisive issue in gaming in general though; Shut Up & Sit Down in a recent podcast mentioned struggling with coverage of mahjong, precisely because any stance on gambling would alienate about half their audience.

My tastes aside though, assuming players have the appropriate ability to calculate odds and the relatively value of their board position compared to the field of possible board positions, what you're talking about is fundamentally adopting the correct meta-game strategy or, assuming that problem is knowable and solved, yomi. I don't think it's necessary to yield a narrative component to either of those: when faced with yomi, you're trying to find the quickest way to break it into a state that does yield to conventional strategy for as long as possible, or if you can't find a break that way, to continue it as long as possible until such a break can be achieved.

Appreciate the thorough response. Let me say a few things and see if I can't clarify some of the potential daylight between us.

Take three different contests/games: Texas Hold 'Em, American Football, Mixed Martial Arts. Each of these have elements of pattern-seeking and pattern-disguising along with substrates of best practices/analytics that undergird play. So what you're trying to do is (a) deploy best practices both situationally and across the throughline of play while (b) sussing out what your competition is trying to do and (c) disguising what you're trying to do to your competition. For instance:

The most successful NFL coordinators will (a) follow an Expected Points Added (EPA is a measure of success which defines the value of each play by the effect it has on the offense's likelihood to score) "script" in their play-calling sequencing (both situationally and broadly) while (b) simultaneously self-scouting to understand their established tendencies such that they can (c) "tendency-break" as much as possible but especially in key situations.​

Now, trade out the particulars for the game, and an analogous paradigm emerges in Texas Hold 'Em and Mixed Martial Arts.

Ok, so. What I am saying is the following:

* Any given sequence of play will reverberate into the next. Put another way, gamestates are not independent from one another.

* Because of the way humans digest and pass along information, both in the experience of what happened and in the subsequent conveyance of what happened, any given sequence of play will have an associated "tale." That tale will involve situation and characters. The individuals involved in the play experience will have attendant impacts to their cognitive states (and possibly physical states) based on the collisions and resolutions of sequences. These state-changes will create a momentum/arc/swell to play that is captured and catalogued by both participants and attendees/audience.

* The accretion of all of those sequences, because they are not independent from one another, will develop into a discernible throughline. This throughline will be both experienced first-hand by the participants and witnessed by attendees/audience members. The situations, characters, and throughline that emerge as a result will have a tendency toward being catalogued as "legacy-defining" and achieve iconic status in proportion to the stakes, exposure, novelty of play, and embedded "storylines."




Ok, hopefully that is all clear. So what I'm saying is:

* Gamestate and its changes are not independent from one another.

* Participant and audience members cannot help but capture the events (situation, characters, throughline) in a way that yields "story."

* The participants involved will experience the magnitude of events cognitively (and possibly physically) and this will impact limbic function and prefrontal cortex function. They will capture and "feel" the unfolding events to one degree or another. The best competitors will be able to harness these "feelings" successfully while lesser competitors will wilt as the moments and arc of play weighs upon them. The former will sense their agency bulwarked while the latter will sense their agency stolen from them.

* Just like gamestate is not independent from other gamestates, participants and attendees experience and witness the events before them in a way that is dependent on these gamestate relationships and maps the sequences of play and its throughline to a phenomenon of "story."

Hopefully that makes sense as I want to lay this out as a foundation for subsequent conversation on TTRPG gamestate: story relationships.
 

Pedantic

Legend
Appreciate the thorough response. Let me say a few things and see if I can't clarify some of the potential daylight between us.

Take three different contests/games: Texas Hold 'Em, American Football, Mixed Martial Arts. Each of these have elements of pattern-seeking and pattern-disguising along with substrates of best practices/analytics that undergird play. So what you're trying to do is (a) deploy best practices both situationally and across the throughline of play while (b) sussing out what your competition is trying to do and (c) disguising what you're trying to do to your competition. For instance:

The most successful NFL coordinators will (a) follow an Expected Points Added (EPA is a measure of success which defines the value of each play by the effect it has on the offense's likelihood to score) "script" in their play-calling sequencing (both situationally and broadly) while (b) simultaneously self-scouting to understand their established tendencies such that they can (c) "tendency-break" as much as possible but especially in key situations.​

Now, trade out the particulars for the game, and an analogous paradigm emerges in Texas Hold 'Em and Mixed Martial Arts.
I think we're on the same page here, I don't have anything to quibble with.
Ok, so. What I am saying is the following:

* Any given sequence of play will reverberate into the next. Put another way, gamestates are not independent from one another.
I agree, but I don't think that necessarily has bearing on the question of agency. You need a set of gamestates to move between in order to have any expression at all of course, but agency is discussing the impact and variety of choices players make in moving between them.
* Because of the way humans digest and pass along information, both in the experience of what happened and in the subsequent conveyance of what happened, any given sequence of play will have an associated "tale." That tale will involve situation and characters. The individuals involved in the play experience will have attendant impacts to their cognitive states (and possibly physical states) based on the collisions and resolutions of sequences. These state-changes will create a momentum/arc/swell to play that is captured and catalogued by both participants and attendees/audience.

* The accretion of all of those sequences, because they are not independent from one another, will develop into a discernible throughline. This throughline will be both experienced first-hand by the participants and witnessed by attendees/audience members. The situations, characters, and throughline that emerge as a result will have a tendency toward being catalogued as "legacy-defining" and achieve iconic status in proportion to the stakes, exposure, novelty of play, and embedded "storylines."
I'm not sure how these points relate to the question of agency, but I'm willing to agree that most sets of play can be related as stories. There's a delightful line from an old opinion piece about Netrunner claiming that the entire reason to play the game is so that one can talk about it afterwards; breaking down the lines of play and playing back through the reasoning of the players at critical decision points is part of the appeal.



Ok, hopefully that is all clear. So what I'm saying is:

* Gamestate and its changes are not independent from one another.

* Participant and audience members cannot help but capture the events (situation, characters, throughline) in a way that yields "story."
I don't know that I'd view this as an autonomic act, and I still have questions about relevance; being able to string a series of ludic decisions together thus that you can relate a narrative about them doesn't necessarily say anything about the inverse case.
* The participants involved will experience the magnitude of events cognitively (and possibly physically) and this will impact limbic function and prefrontal cortex function. They will capture and "feel" the unfolding events to one degree or another. The best competitors will be able to harness these "feelings" successfully while lesser competitors will wilt as the moments and arc of play weighs upon them. The former will sense their agency bulwarked while the latter will sense their agency stolen from them.
I don't think I'd grant this at all. You're arguing that higher stakes can make it more difficult to play well, which I can agree with, but the following points about agency I don't think are true. Agency isn't a measurement of difficulty. You're essentially describing tilt, which is certainly a factor in how well one plays a game and what decisions one might make, but not a factor in whether one is making meaningful gameplay decisions in the first place.
* Just like gamestate is not independent from other gamestates, participants and attendees experience and witness the events before them in a way that is dependent on these gamestate relationships and maps the sequences of play and its throughline to a phenomenon of "story."

Hopefully that makes sense as I want to lay this out as a foundation for subsequent conversation on TTRPG gamestate: story relationships.
I don't see any problem here, though I admit it feels a little weird to use competitive spectator sport language to describe gameplay in TTRPGs when I'd probably reach for cooperative board game analogies first.
 

I think we're on the same page here, I don't have anything to quibble with.

I agree, but I don't think that necessarily has bearing on the question of agency. You need a set of gamestates to move between in order to have any expression at all of course, but agency is discussing the impact and variety of choices players make in moving between them.

I'm not sure how these points relate to the question of agency, but I'm willing to agree that most sets of play can be related as stories. There's a delightful line from an old opinion piece about Netrunner claiming that the entire reason to play the game is so that one can talk about it afterwards; breaking down the lines of play and playing back through the reasoning of the players at critical decision points is part of the appeal.

I don't know that I'd view this as an autonomic act, and I still have questions about relevance; being able to string a series of ludic decisions together thus that you can relate a narrative about them doesn't necessarily say anything about the inverse case.

I don't think I'd grant this at all. You're arguing that higher stakes can make it more difficult to play well, which I can agree with, but the following points about agency I don't think are true. Agency isn't a measurement of difficulty. You're essentially describing tilt, which is certainly a factor in how well one plays a game and what decisions one might make, but not a factor in whether one is making meaningful gameplay decisions in the first place.

I don't see any problem here, though I admit it feels a little weird to use competitive spectator sport language to describe gameplay in TTRPGs when I'd probably reach for cooperative board game analogies first.

Alright, good stuff, good stuff. Ok, so a string of responses and unpacking:

1) I don't know that we disagree or agree on whether or not the person who "feels" their agency is thrwarted in a situation because their limbic system becomes hijacked such that their ability to navigate their decision-trees and effectively activate their muskuloskeletal is negatively impacted "actually" has their agency thrwarted. There is a phenomenon called a "practice player." This individual is incredible during practice, but they cannot tranport that performance over to the game precisely because of what I'm calling out above. Their capacity to call upon their resources and fulfill their potential is actually harmed because their limbic system doesn't support performance under a particular type/amount of duress. The question of (i) "is unconscious, endogenous handicap (which may be biologically determined) actually agency-thwarting" is difficult question and not the one I was looking to get at here. I was bringing that in because:

* "I choked. I am a choker. I failed to perform in the clutch."

* “I clutched up in the key moment when others wilted. I'm clutch."

* “That person made the clutch play at the key moment while everyone else was pissing their pants. They're clutch."

There is gamestate here. There is authorship of a moment (or moments) and of a trajectory here. There is emergent story of the event, of the characters, and some of that is autobiographical. They are all either interrelated or dependent. The flagging sense of agency (being captured by your handicapping limbic system) and the magnified sense of agency (being propelled by your limbic system) is a part of that and that is regardless of the answer to the question of (i) above.

2) Ok, what do you think about this:

a) X football team calls run plays on 3rd and 3 in neutral field position (40 to 40) and in neutral gamestate situations (outside of end of half and with the game within 1 score difference) only 2 % of the time. They are a passing team in this situation.

b) X football team runs jet motion (the slot wide receiver sprinting from one side of the formation to the other, threatening a hand-off at the snap) routinely regardless of down and distance and gamestate.

c) X football team has continued both of these tendencies in the present game.

d) X football team comes out in a passing personnel grouping (1 running back and tight end, 3 wide receivers, shotgun formation) on 3rd and 3 in neutral field position in neutral gamestate situation. They run jet motion.

e) The Middle Linebacker for Y football team has the responsibility to read his keys > fit the run in the strong side (side of the formation with the tight end) A gap (the gap between the Center and the Guard) OR play inside-out (this is called "Spill” technique) and pursue the ball to the sideline if there is a handoff and the ball carrier declares beyond the tackle box toward the sideline > get into their coverage responsibility if those run keys don't materialize into a running play.

f) The Middle Linebacker for Y football team is a notoriously slow processor and undisciplined player who abandons their assignment to freelance or get a jump on what they believe their responsibility is going to be presnap (to make up for that poor processing).

g) X football team hands off the football to that jet motion player. The Middle Linebacker for Y football team doesn't read their keys and appropriately pursue the run and manage their run fit responsibilities; they abandon their assignment and drop into their coverage responsibility. X football team converts that 3rd and 3 with the jet action run and breaks off an explosive 12 yard play.

h) Instead of punting after a failed 3rd down conversion, 4 plays later, X football team scores a backbreaking TD and turns the situation into a 2 score game, a gamestate that is never recovered from. Y team loses the game.


My contention is this:

* X Football Team will have a pre-game story.

* The Middle Linebacker for Y Team will have a pre-game story.

* The balance of this game will swing upon the collision of these two stories due to their gamestate-attending realities and how those collide and then cascade forward post-collision. That cascade will be manyfold. That MLB for Team Y is apt to be on tilt and play even worse. The duress of the new gamestate and his teammates' lack of trust in the MLB will reduce margin-of-error, amplify any poor play, and increase propensity for assignment-unsoundness for Team Y or even recklnessness that increases risk of injury (and that can be for someone on either side). The inverse is true and multi-layered for Team X. People witnessing and covering the events of this game and its results will yield story. The intra-game dynamics, the results of the game, and the coverage of the game will impact the locker room, possibly leading to a death spiral that the team doesn't recover from. A coach or coaches might get fired. People might not get the contract they were looking for or, worse still, they might wind up cut and out of the league.

* The gamestate dynamics are inevitably story and consequentially so.

* That consequential story is actionable, leveraged, and the advantage taken has serious gamestate consequences.

* Those gamestate conseqeunces reverberate into further gamestate consequences which finalize into win conditions/loss conditions.

* Each of those things above are expressions of inseparable gamestate : story relationships both in the moment and in their cascade forward into the future into new states and story. None of it is independent.

* TTRPGs where there is actual agency is like this because of the way gamestate is inextricably married to the context of continuity and the concerns of a particularly arrayed imagined space. In American Football, you cannot separate out (a) the specific gamestate dynamics of situational football with (b) what has come before (tendencies/patterns/established best practices) with (c) the nature of the personnel on the field and in the coach’s booth (which you are trying to manipulate/leverage). Same thing goes with Hold ‘Em and combat sports. In that way they mirror TTRPGs which have a gamestate that must index the context and content of the imagined space. Players create dynamic story parameters > consequential adversity is applied to it > a decision-tree is undertaken > game engine tech is applied (typically including PC build meeting action resolution mechanics) > dynamic story parameters emerge to change the situation and create new trajectories > PCs evolve via both advancement and attrition scheme + the nature of, changes to, and context of the imagined space > rinse : repeat until all matters are resolved (which means different things for different games).
 
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Pedantic

Legend
Alright, good stuff, good stuff. Ok, so a string of responses and unpacking:

1) I don't know that we disagree or agree on whether or not the person who "feels" their agency is thrwarted in a situation because their limbic system becomes hijacked such that their ability to navigate their decision-trees and effectively activate their muskuloskeletal is negatively impacted "actually" has their agency thrwarted. There is a phenomenon called a "practice player." This individual is incredible during practice, but they cannot tranport that performance over to the game precisely because of what I'm calling out above. Their capacity to call upon their resources and fulfill their potential is actually harmed because their limbic system doesn't support performance under a particular type/amount of duress. The question of (i) "is unconscious, endogenous handicap (which may be biologically determined) actually agency-thwarting" is difficult question and not the one I was looking to get at here. I was bringing that in because:

* "I choked. I am a choker. I failed to perform in the clutch."

* I clutched up in the key moment when others wilted. I'm clutch."

* That person made the clutch play at the key moment while everyone else was pissing their pants. They're clutch."
I'd certainly view those as extrinsic to the general question of agency, probably lumping them in under "ability."
There is gamestate here. There is authorship of a moment (or moments) and of a trajectory here. There is emergent story of the event, of the characters, and some of that is autobiographical. They are all either interrelated or dependent. The flagging sense of agency (being captured by your handicapping limbic system) and the magnified sense of agency (being propelled by your limbic system) is a part of that and that is regardless of the answer to the question of (i) above.
You're bringing up the participant's sense of agency routinely, which I have to admit I'm not particularly interested in. People voluntarily play slots and roulette and War, none of which have any actual agency for the player, but people tend to believe/behave as if they do.
My contention is this:

* X Football Team will have a pre-game story.

* The Middle Linebacker for Y Team will have a pre-game story.

* The balance of this game will swing upon the collision of these two stories due to their gamestate-attending realities and how those collide and then cascade forward post-collision. That cascade will be manyfold. That MLB for Team Y is apt to be on tilt and play even worse. The duress of the new gamestate and his teammates' lack of trust in the MLB will reduce margin-of-error, amplify any poor play, and increase propensity for assignment-unsoundness for Team Y or even recklnessness that increases risk of injury (and that can be for someone on either side). The inverse is true and multi-layered for Team X. People witnessing and covering the events of this game and its results will yield story. The intra-game dynamics, the results of the game, and the coverage of the game will impact the locker room, possibly leading to a death spiral that the team doesn't recover from. A coach or coaches might get fired. People might not get the contract they were looking for or, worse still, they might wind up cut and out of the league.
I don't understand the relevance of this entire example. Team sports are tricky because you have both the overarching structure of a strategy determined by one or more people, and then the execution of pieces of those strategies by individual players. If I'm parsing all of this completely, and I am barely conversant in football so I may not be, you're saying Team X has a strategy that is known/knowable preemptively based on the current state of the game, Team Y has a player who fails to parse this information in time, and consequently makes what I'd call a misplay, from which one can draw a solid line to Team Y's ultimate loss?

I think I've followed the narrative, but I'm not totally sure what you're saying with the relationship you're drawing next. I agree one can draw a narrative about the game? In the particular context of professional sports, the consequences of the game are larger than a less observed/impactful contest relying on similar strategy might be.
* The gamestate dynamics are inevitably story and consequentially so.
I would say you can certainly tell a story derived from a game state, and you've picked an example that has an industry devoted to doing so.
* That consequential story is actionable, leveraged, and the advantage taken has serious gamestate consequences.

* Those gamestate conseqeunces reverberate into further gamestate consequences which finalize into win conditions/loss conditions.
I don't think these follow. The example you provided hinges on one misplay, about which a story can be told, but that isn't relevant to the question of agency in gameplay to begin with.
* Each of those things above are expressions of inseparable gamestate : story relationships both in the moment and in their cascade forward into the future into new states and story. None of it is independent.
I just don't think this is the case, except in so much as we are all humans and cannot be anything less than ourselves when doing anything at all. I buy that narrative can emerge from gameplay, there's arguably entire genres of television built around that prospect, but I don't think that's relevant to the question of ludic agency. We could examine the context that brought me to a middling table at a local Netrunner tournament, and the context that brought someone to a roulette wheel at a local casino, but within the games we're both playing I will actively have more agency than the gambler.
* TTRPGs where there is actual agency is like this. Players create dynamic story parameters > consequential adversity is applied to it > a decision-tree is undertaken > game engine tech is applied (typically including PC build meeting action resolution mechanics) > dynamic story parameters emerge to change the situation and create new trajectories > PCs evolve via both advancement and attrition scheme + the nature of, changes to, and context of the imagined space > rinse : repeat until all matters are resolved (which means different things for different games).
I don't think you've really proven there's only a singular kind of agency, you've just asserted that one can produce narrative from almost context, which I don't think is controversial.
 

Maxperson

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I'd certainly view those as extrinsic to the general question of agency, probably lumping them in under "ability."

You're bringing up the participant's sense of agency routinely, which I have to admit I'm not particularly interested in. People voluntarily play slots and roulette and War, none of which have any actual agency for the player, but people tend to believe/behave as if they do.

I don't understand the relevance of this entire example. Team sports are tricky because you have both the overarching structure of a strategy determined by one or more people, and then the execution of pieces of those strategies by individual players. If I'm parsing all of this completely, and I am barely conversant in football so I may not be, you're saying Team X has a strategy that is known/knowable preemptively based on the current state of the game, Team Y has a player who fails to parse this information in time, and consequently makes what I'd call a misplay, from which one can draw a solid line to Team Y's ultimate loss?

I think I've followed the narrative, but I'm not totally sure what you're saying with the relationship you're drawing next. I agree one can draw a narrative about the game? In the particular context of professional sports, the consequences of the game are larger than a less observed/impactful contest relying on similar strategy might be.

I would say you can certainly tell a story derived from a game state, and you've picked an example that has an industry devoted to doing so.

I don't think these follow. The example you provided hinges on one misplay, about which a story can be told, but that isn't relevant to the question of agency in gameplay to begin with.

I just don't think this is the case, except in so much as we are all humans and cannot be anything less than ourselves when doing anything at all. I buy that narrative can emerge from gameplay, there's arguably entire genres of television built around that prospect, but I don't think that's relevant to the question of ludic agency. We could examine the context that brought me to a middling table at a local Netrunner tournament, and the context that brought someone to a roulette wheel at a local casino, but within the games we're both playing I will actively have more agency than the gambler.

I don't think you've really proven there's only a singular kind of agency, you've just asserted that one can produce narrative from almost context, which I don't think is controversial.

Gonna take one last crack at this and if this doesn't work, I think we probably should call it a day. Going to see if I can sum up what I've been trying to convey in as few words as possible.

Like Poker, American Football is as much about (i) tendency-breaking, (ii) false signaling, and (iii) situational/positional playing (all of which typically or universally trade on the strategic currency of suboptimal play now for amplification of lines of play later) as it is about "developing best practices around an optimal play model." And those three are both expressions of (a) agency and (b) story generation.

All three of those above are axes of challenge that are gameable.

All three of those generate an evolving board state.

All three of those are vectors for agency that inextricably transmit story. Story about the board state that you want your participants to believe so you can seduce them into parameterizing their mental model with it so you can leverage that later. Story about you the player that you broadcast to all of opposition, to audience/spectators, and even in how you perceive yourself (this manifests in self-scouting and in self-belief or self-doubt). Downstream of the impacts of this story on the evolving board state, success or failure will be generated. This success or failure will either (a) finish the game or (b) generate an evolved board state. Regardless, story (in all the ways mentioned above) more story will be generated in all the ways mentioned above.

The TTRPG equivalent of this phenomenon might be as follows:

* I have lines of play available to me via PC build and game engine dynamics that trend toward better or worse outcomes both in terms of gamestate dynamics and evolving story trajectories.

* I have x resources available to discretionally ration over y interval of play.

* I refresh those resources on n schedule.

* I also need to struggle and suffer and fail in order to attain both (1) another currency p to power recovery of stuff (gear repair/replacement, condition recovery) and (2) advance my action resolution portfolio (both increasing my top end of my best skills/attributes/etc and increasing the breadth of my skills/attributes/etc).

* I evaluate the obstacle in front of me, the consequence space from failure, and the roster/array of obstacles downrange of this particular obstacle. I determine that my best line of play right now is to thematically struggle to generate currency p, accrue a failure for advancement, accrue a "struggled with <thing>" in order to get a metacurrency at the end of session, and "face the music" of the consequences. That "music faced" is both gamestate change (either a Twist - new obstacle faced of a particular type - or a Condition + Success over the obstacle) and a story trajectory that defines my character in this moment and lays out a story trajectory (story of situation, of character, and possibly even setting). Where we go from here is To Be Determined. But my gamestate/story agency here has altered play (boardstate and imagined space and character trajectory) such that if I chose an alternate line of play (which optimized for success in this moment while not earning me currency, advancement, and forcing the fallout of a particular consequence upon me) it would instantiate an "alternate gamestate/story trajectory reality that would cascade forward into new fiction, new gamestate, new decision-trees to navigate (etc)."




That is all I have in the tank. That is my best shot. If that doesn't connect, we should probably just tip caps and exit stage left.
 

Pedantic

Legend
Like Poker, American Football is as much about (i) tendency-breaking, (ii) false signaling, and (iii) situational/positional playing (all of which typically or universally trade on the strategic currency of suboptimal play now for amplification of lines of play later) as it is about "developing best practices around an optimal play model." And those three are both expressions of (a) agency and (b) story generation.

[...]

But my gamestate/story agency here has altered play (boardstate and imagined space and character trajectory) such that if I chose an alternate line of play (which optimized for success in this moment while not earning me currency, advancement, and forcing the fallout of a particular consequence upon me) it would instantiate an "alternate gamestate/story trajectory reality that would cascade forward into new fiction, new gamestate, new decision-trees to navigate (etc)."




That is all I have in the tank. That is my best shot. If that doesn't connect, we should probably just tip caps and exit stage left.
I don't know that we're honestly that far apart, I'm picking out a few specific points that I think are where we continue to not align. It mostly looks to me in these examples that you're eliding the question of evaluation I pointed to earlier. It's not enough to have a state on which to make decisions, and for those decisions to produce new states; you need a point and criteria where your play will be evaluated for effectiveness in order to give the prior set of decisions meaning. To be blunt and oversimplify, "gameplay" as I'm discussing it here requires the players try to win.

It's fine to shift that up one layer, what you're talking about with advancement/resource mechanics that reward failure in a given task. I'd call them catch-up mechanisms in a more conventional game, and a lively discussion would emerge about whether or not catch-up mechanics should primarily be about rubber banding or gameable in their own right. Fundamentally, that just means you're picking a different evaluation point, which I don't see an issue with. The problem comes when you try and shift the goalposts dynamically; agency in gameplay requires a goal. If that goal is going to change, it needs to do so in a structured that's either laid out preemptively in the rules of the game being played OR in some circumstances might do so as a response to a decision by a player. The latter case is most often degenerate (think like kingmaking, I can't win, so I'll at least ensure Y loses), but it is a key design feature in some games, say like in Oath when one accepts a position with the Chancellor, or in exploration play focused sandbox type games where one adopts and discards goals as you go, basically just to see the mechanisms play out (think like Crusader Kings).

Oath is actually a prime example, considering. The game is structured to create an ongoing narrative about history of an empire that spans multiple rounds of play, and the game has specific mechanisms for allowing prior games to influence future ones; it's essentially a board game specifically trying to create a connection across multiple plays of the game. It still ends and has victor(s) from round to round and one can play it well or badly.

I feel like this discussion is mostly orthogonal to my point. I don't dispute the function of games in producing story, but I still think there is a unique, gameplay specific kind of agency. I actually quite like "player agency" as the name, because "player" marks the participant as someone engaged in a game, but it's understandably a muddled term in the TTRPG space. Part of the appeal of games as an activity is that in simplifying the complexity of the world down to a series of systems one gains a locus of control it's impossible to have otherwise. The restrictions on what is possible, combined with a specific goal give players unique agency that isn't possible elsewhere.

Harkening back to @AbdulAlhazred 's question earlier about why I'm even interested in TTRPGs, they provide a unique and interesting structure by which that agency can be pursued in a larger and less bounded space than other kinds of game can allow. They have the potential to do so with stunning efficiency when designed with carefully applied abstraction, relative to the difficulty of offering a player even a fraction of the available space in other formats, like videogames. The story is nice too.
 

I don't know that we're honestly that far apart, I'm picking out a few specific points that I think are where we continue to not align. It mostly looks to me in these examples that you're eliding the question of evaluation I pointed to earlier. It's not enough to have a state on which to make decisions, and for those decisions to produce new states; you need a point and criteria where your play will be evaluated for effectiveness in order to give the prior set of decisions meaning. To be blunt and oversimplify, "gameplay" as I'm discussing it here requires the players try to win.
Well, 'win' can cover a lot of territory! Even outside of what most people would consider 'winning' there are other motives for playing games entirely. I mean, I don't play chess against my buddy the state champion to win, trust me! Yes, I do play moves which are generally 'strong' but here the notion of 'moving towards victory' (or at least the least possible distance away from it) simply structures the interaction. The goals and motives of the players in one of these games is not to be found within the board! Honestly, a world championship tournament largely takes place outside of actual rules-based play, though obviously in that case winning in a formal sense is primary. Anyway, we often employ personal and idiosyncratic criteria for our actions, and often 'game play' is embedded in other contexts.
It's fine to shift that up one layer, what you're talking about with advancement/resource mechanics that reward failure in a given task. I'd call them catch-up mechanisms in a more conventional game, and a lively discussion would emerge about whether or not catch-up mechanics should primarily be about rubber banding or gameable in their own right. Fundamentally, that just means you're picking a different evaluation point, which I don't see an issue with. The problem comes when you try and shift the goalposts dynamically; agency in gameplay requires a goal. If that goal is going to change, it needs to do so in a structured that's either laid out preemptively in the rules of the game being played OR in some circumstances might do so as a response to a decision by a player. The latter case is most often degenerate (think like kingmaking, I can't win, so I'll at least ensure Y loses), but it is a key design feature in some games, say like in Oath when one accepts a position with the Chancellor, or in exploration play focused sandbox type games where one adopts and discards goals as you go, basically just to see the mechanisms play out (think like Crusader Kings).
Well, you might think of that as some ideal that you have, sure. I think we get your point, how can you evaluate win/loss cons and thus the objective value of any 'move' without them being fixed goals? But I go back to my previous paragraph above. I don't think 'playing a game' requires that! Nor do I think objective goals are the only way people evaluate things they are doing. I take simple pleasure in running my character in the BitD game. The character has goals, which I have constructed (sometimes with regard to the overall game context, but generally tied into it somehow). I can change those, though to do so willy-nilly in some arbitrary way would undermine a major premise of the game, which is to 'play to find out what happens'. Within the context of the character having goals I will play in the most optimal way I am able, and as a player, I will find and set interesting goals and help to adjudicate the narrative outcomes and evolution of those goals over time.

Oath is actually a prime example, considering. The game is structured to create an ongoing narrative about history of an empire that spans multiple rounds of play, and the game has specific mechanisms for allowing prior games to influence future ones; it's essentially a board game specifically trying to create a connection across multiple plays of the game. It still ends and has victor(s) from round to round and one can play it well or badly.
Its a fun concept!
I feel like this discussion is mostly orthogonal to my point. I don't dispute the function of games in producing story, but I still think there is a unique, gameplay specific kind of agency. I actually quite like "player agency" as the name, because "player" marks the participant as someone engaged in a game, but it's understandably a muddled term in the TTRPG space. Part of the appeal of games as an activity is that in simplifying the complexity of the world down to a series of systems one gains a locus of control it's impossible to have otherwise. The restrictions on what is possible, combined with a specific goal give players unique agency that isn't possible elsewhere.

Harkening back to @AbdulAlhazred 's question earlier about why I'm even interested in TTRPGs, they provide a unique and interesting structure by which that agency can be pursued in a larger and less bounded space than other kinds of game can allow. They have the potential to do so with stunning efficiency when designed with carefully applied abstraction, relative to the difficulty of offering a player even a fraction of the available space in other formats, like videogames. The story is nice too.
Yeah, actually that was a great part of what drew me to RPGs in the early days. Honestly I have nothing against, and could still enjoy, some of that play today. Its like spinach, I love spinach, but I only want to eat it a few times a week ;). A Choy is also good, so I have that on other days!
 

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