Friday, October 13, 2006

Lesson: Distributed

RPGs are built on the foundation of person-to-person interaction. Regardless of how that interaction occurs, whether electronic, face-to-face, or something more exotic, the structure of the interaction strongly constrains how we play. One of the most important distinctions in this sense is how distributed the RPG is.

On one extreme, a deeply involving and focused face-to-face RPG can result in a fully connected network of interactions, where each player is actively aware of each other player. At the other extreme, each player could only be aware of a small number of other players, with information and context passing from slowly to those removed from this nexus. In between is a vast variety of ways in which play can be distributed among players.

In the midst of these general concerns about how play is structured, there is also the fact that all but the simplest structures are dynamic. Perhaps, someone leaves on an errand when a scene occurs without them, or groups shuffle as some people move between them. In each of these cases, as well as numerous others, the network of interactions is changed, adjusting to the different configurations.

One advantage of this is that play can be resilient, some people may not be present or simply inattentive, and the distribution can adjust. Also, this mobility allows larger groups to be accommodated. But those dynamics are also structured, by constraints of physical, social, and imagined origin. So in a sense when we ask about how play is distributed we are equally concerned with how that distribution can change.

How should we classify the distribution of play? What are the limits of the connections of a single player? What is made easier by players only seeing a portion of play? What is made more difficult?

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