Thursday, June 29, 2017

Tell, Don't Show.

Information varies in density.
I’m sure you know this, but I’m pointing it out in order to make a serious point
Information has a variable density and if you’re paying attention you can see it, and even manipulate it to some degree.

Let me give you an example. 
Take any suburban 4 way stop here in America. There are only so many inputs for you to deal with or buffer as you need. Maybe you have to be on the lookout for a wild variable like a kid on a skateboard, but other than that, you’re likely to be fine.
Now boost the gain. You’re in your car at a four-way stop downtown.
Boost it again, you’re at a four-way stop in New York City
Boost it again, You’re sitting in an automobile at a four-way stop in downtown Tokyo where the information is so dense you hardly even know where to begin looking unless you’ve already been doing it your whole life.

Games are no different.
Take your average table-top role playing game:
You’ve got a knowledge of each of your roles as players and/or GM’s
You have a social contract that enables each of you to pursue this hobby in a less than chaotic manner.
You have a shared understanding of the setting, tones, and themes of the game written by the game writers and the GM cooperatively.
You have an implicit and intuitive understanding of your character and a concrete schematic of what that character can DO under stress.
You have a portrayal of that character that operates as a gestalt incorporating Vocal tone, timbre, inflection, dialect, body language and facial expression  (In a larp you might have the additional elements of costuming and make-up which create subtle and not-so-subtle changes in that portrayal.)
And in addition to all of that, you have all the cues and bits of shorthand that you have developed in the time you’ve known one another, whether that’s 20 minutes, or 20 years.
Not to mention, all the informational elements that are probably slipping my mind, while I struggle to make this article make some kind of sense.

What I’m trying to get is a little slippery, so bear with me.
I’m playing a chat game that I’m enjoying very much. I have a good group and we have fun playing with one another and it turns out that I’m not the only one that likes venturing outside of our circle in order to pull in new people. If you’ve got a working brain, we want you with us. Or at very least, we want you to be the sort of Nemesis that we can fight with AND respect.

But chat games are not as informationally dense as other games and it makes problems.

All you have is text really.

Oh sure, you post the occasional pic, and you can drop a youtube URL, but by and large, all you have is text to work with.
And while I am certain that you can consume large amounts of text passively and hallucinate your own interface. (Which you are doing right now)
When it comes to communication, I think that text is incredibly limited.

To a degree, Technology has caught up for gamers.  You’ve got Roll20,  you’ve got Google Hangouts, There are people who can play games entirely on Skype or Discord.   But most large-scale dynamic games haven’t gotten there yet. and it’s probably just as well.
Last night I was involved with a scene that featured 20 players and a number of ST-run NPC’s and while that was happening, I was on voice chat with my pack mates at the meeting.  Now imagine all 20 players around the same table and the inevitable cross-talk between players.

Sometimes, text is all you want for something that large.

So, If that’s the case. Then we’ve got to find ways to express ourselves that are more efficient. Because in an interface that is only text, you live and die by your words.   And you know me, I am all about not dying by my words.

1) No joke: There is help available. Seek It!
I recognize that Spell Checkers can be a pain in the ass. I understand that Grammarly can slow down your typing and occasionally mess you up.
But no one wants to wait on your wall of text and then have to try and parse your meaning like some kind of ancient Sumerian codices. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time.  But if you’re having trouble with that stuff, use the help that is available. Don’t just gut it out and make everyone else gut it out too.

2) Speaking of Wall of Text...
If you’ve got something you’ve pre-written, then break it up into paragraphs and post it in sections. If you’re writing it from scratch, go for brevity over quantity.  And if you’re in the middle of some enormous crowd scene, for GOD’s sake, ask yourself if what you’re saying is necessary.  I recall a specific instance in a scene where an ST gave the players 15 minutes to react to the last bit of news he’d dropped in character and there was one guy who made him wait for an extra five to post a wall of text explaining in loving detail how bored his character was.
A very wise woman once said, “Ain’t nobody got time for THAT!”

3) Economize
Have a really good reason for everything you post.   You can just as easily say, “He shrugged” as you could say, “He shrugged with Gaulic eloquence”.   One of these marks you as a frustrated novelist.    While your character’s words ought to be exactly what they are, any additional descriptive text you post ought to be looked over as the best place to start cutting.  I’m not saying, NEVER describe. Far from it. As a GM you have to, and you know that, as like as not, the things you have to describe are already written.  But as a player and writing on the fly, make sure that the things you write and describe are necessary.
    Like for example. I recognize that it used to be that when you walked into a room, you had to describe what you looked like and exactly how you were entering and so on and so forth.  But nowadays, You’ve got wikis. Most places have a wiki of their own but even if yours doesn’t, you could always make one of your own and just drop the link to it.  Wiki’s can provide all that flavor text so you don’t have to repeat yourself over and over. Wikis can have pictures and music and moving gifs and all manner of madness. And even if you’re not great with the wiki sorcery, someone IS and you can offer them in-game favors, or even pictures of your naughty bits in order to get them to fix it up for you. And there’s no rule that says if you suck at wiki editing, that you have to stay bad at it.

4) Economize with Slang and Dialects
Dialect is HARD to write. It’s hard to write well and it’s hard to write it well enough to be both authentic and communicable.  Sure, it’s an element of your character and all, but most people are perfectly happy to accept *He comes in swearing non-stop in a thick Scott's brogue and looks right at you with blood in his eyes and says,* What the FOOK are you looking at?

One word of dialect. Pretty sure you parsed which one and what I meant there.

Slang is another thing that can be overused to the point of incoherency. Slang is often a kind of meta-language that is used to exclude and keep other people out. If that’s your INTENT, then, by all means, do that. I discovered when I worked at IBM, that Engineers do that sort of thing all the time. If you have to ask a question about the content of the message, it marks you as a non-gearhead. (Or worse, a not very serious gearhead.)  As a Theater major, I was none of those things. So I asked questions a lot. and I would get frustrated with the fact that Engineers would get so used to communicating in Acronyms that their speech was all but incomprehensible to outsiders.
They didn’t fookin care.

5) Name, rank, and serial number
Get used to not saying everything you want to say.  Anymore, I completely forego telling people what my character is thinking or feeling. I might characterize my facial expression or body language, but that’s it. Also, don’t feel like you have to tell your character's story to anyone who asks.
True Story: Met a dude at a larp, who was playing a new character for the first time, and he and I happened to meet at a bottleneck in some action, and we happened to be in a place where we could sit down. Feeling a little extroverted that evening. I began asking him questions about himself. And I am fairly confident that, in the space of 10 minutes he told me everything there was to know about his character. I felt so sorry for the poor lad, I didn’t even feel like destroying him because I knew everything about him. I ended up taking him under my wing somewhat and taught him how to keep a secret.

Sometimes the best way to keep a secret is to tell it in every way but language. You learn how to make the other guy read your mind through occasional flashes of emotion, bits of described body language and even descriptions of other sensory input...and people will be DYING to know what’s going on in that head of yours.  Mystery is a thing. You should cultivate it. it gives other people things to do.


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