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Focus - a gaming theory post

I've never been happy with GNS as a gaming theory. It seems to work as some kind of autopsy tool but I just don't get on with it's view of a game as some kind of entity fixed in time. For me, gaming is a dynamic situation in which many things come into play.

So here's my current thinking about gaming theory. It's called Focus. In some ways it's related to Dennett's multiple drafts theory of conciousness.

In this way the Shared Imaginary Space is an emergent property of the game, reevaluated at every moment, much as the way conciousness appears in Dennett's theory.

And by the way, I'm possibly going to use terms in technical ways that aren't terribly well defined at the moment and probably not in the same way that others use them, noticeably narrative to which I give the more usual wider sense. But that's because I'm still thinking about things.

Focus is a dynamic and there are several kinds of focus. Focus can to a certain extent be thought of as the sensory apparatus of the gamer but it's more than that. It's about where the gamer is acting in the game being played. Focus is independent of the way in which the player interacts with the game, it's more about intentions.

At the moment I'll define three levels of focus:
- Character focus.
This is where the player is concentrating on the game at the level of their character. It concerns things such as the characters actions and their immediate goals, successes and failures.

- Narrative focus.
This is where the player is concentrating on a the game at the level of the story that is being created by play. It concerns things such as tone of the game, the narrative structures and effects in play and also, if there is one, any kind of overarching premise for the game.

- Setting focus.
This is where the player is concentrating on the game at the level of the setting. This is distinguished from narrative because it is the background against which the narrative is played out and in which the characters act.

- Social focus
This is where the player is concentrating on the how the game is being played. It is generally about focussing on the other players directly rather than the developing game. I'm tempted to leave out this focus because it is less directly involved in the game itself but it is the context for the game and as such carries weight in what happens.

This all sound very GNS at the moment. The difference is that the focus of play or a player is neither deemed to be constant nor exclusive. In the same way the multiple drafts theory of conciousness elicits many concurrent narratives, Focus theory projects this into the field of play and contends that, in effect, the game as it is played is second layer of multiple drafts created by the players of the game. Dominance in this second layer of multiple drafts is decided through the use of the rules, explicit and unstated, social conventions and the like (including whether or not there is a GM who has a privileged role).

Some games privilege through their rules one focus over another.

So, very messy at the moment but you can probably see where I'm coming from.

It's also my contention that the indie gaming movement has on the whole made the narrative focus more apparent to players and given them a range of tools that allow for more varied interactions with the game.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 26th, 2008 02:13 pm (UTC)
re. social focus, don't forget the contextual element - things that are more or less irrelevant to the game itself but may impact it, such as which player hates which other player for reasons that have nothing to do with the game, the players knowledge of how a particular player always does things - "Brian will always backstab everyone sooner or later," and so forth.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 26th, 2008 07:17 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't say it sounds very GNS at all, though they share in common player preference.

I'm curious to see where you take this! We need more competing game theories out there. Do you see this as a theory of play, a theory of game design, or something else?

The one thing the Big Model does for me is give me a common vocabulary to talk about the parts of a game design or game session -- at least with other Big Model folks. It doesn't even have to be right to be useful in that regard.

I don't think your theory is developed enough to let me talk about much at all except what a particular player is thinking at a given moment. That doesn't help me understand what part the game text (or the larger system) plays in aiding / hindering / encouraging the player to think various things.

Also, while it does get into a single player's head, it does not address how a bunch of players communicate to create a shared, creative project that is every RPG session.
Feb. 26th, 2008 08:20 pm (UTC)
Well, it's early days yet. This is the first I've written about this although I've been thinking about it for some years off and on. That said I see it as a theory about how roleplaying games work, so of play primarily but I expect it to have applications beyond the explanatory particularly in guiding the designer to consider how the focusses are privileged or not by the rules and how they interact.
Feb. 27th, 2008 02:38 pm (UTC)
Another component of this theory is awareness. That is, is the player aware of where they are focussing and how that is affecting the game and everyone else's focus.

For example, a lot of focus on social can shift the dominant focus away from the game and break the mood.
Feb. 28th, 2008 04:38 am (UTC)
Yup, looks good to me.

To drag it more back towards GNS (maybe?) is there focus on pure game results and game aspects, separate from character? I mean, I enjoy rolling dice purely for the tactile, visual and aural pleasure, and I enjoy rolling high numbers because they look pretty. Is that a focus?
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )