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.