Friday, March 03, 2006

Lesson: Decisions

When discussing the activity of one or more players during a RPG, it is useful to break things down into decisions. Decisions tell a theorist how a player has chosen between different options, and what that choice may mean in the larger context of the game. Decisions are key to identifying what matters to a player, but they are only part of the puzzle.

Not every thought which passes through a player's head is a decisions. For a player to make a decision they must take some overt action, whether speaking, picking up dice, or shaking her head. Likewise, not every overt action the player takes must be a decision. What makes a decision distinctive is that from multiple options, one is chosen. This choice strikes a definite preference for the choice taken, versus those declined.

In this sense, players decide each time they choose a character action, make a statement approving or disapproving another player's action, or offer a suggestion or description to the rest of the players. But a decision is most useful by what is left unclear. A decision doesn't tell the theorist what options were ignored, nor what thoughts occurred both before and after the decision. With the exception of very significant decisions, most players will not recall all of those details either. Without this context, a single decision is rarely of much use.

But a pattern of decisions means patterns in the thoughts and options behind those decisions, and that can be invaluable to the RPG theorist. Unfortunately even these patterns leave questions which must be answered. How many decisions are needed to conclude that a pattern is present? How much do these patterns tell us about the players and the game? And what else might we be missing by focusing on decisions?

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