Wednesday 23 April 2014

Ride the Iceberg

There’s a theory that passengers on the Titanic could have ridden the iceberg and lived.

The iceberg the titanic hit was large and, apparently, flat. The ship didn’t have enough lifeboats to take everyone. Anyone going into the water would freeze to death in minutes. They do have enough boats to ferry people over to the berg. Steps could be cut up and people moved to the top. Anyone there would still freeze or starve to death, but that would take days, not minutes, and rescue ships are already on the way, they arrive the next day.

It’s a slightly crazy plan maybe, but, if you were the captain of the Titanic, and you knew for a fact that a huge number of your passengers were absolutely going to drown and freeze, and that you would too, and if someone described it to you, would you have given it a try?

The reason people don’t think about riding the iceberg is because they are fucking terrified. When you are scared you don’t think of the thing that has killed you as the thing that can save you.

I bring it up is because it is a good example of one of the things I love most in RPG’s. The re-contextualising of information when under pressure. Seeing everything in the environment almost ‘as-one’, as if you were both outside and within. Being aware of every object and process, not just as it applies to you, but as what it is in itself, its qualities apart from your interaction with it.

There is a deep pleasure for me in thinking about things in this way.

When you are aware of all the things on their own, separated from their immediate contexts, you can then allow them to drift and settle into new configurations. Threats become tools, or toys. The poison that you drink becomes a weapon in your hands.

The castle is surrounded by an acidic moat, the Frost Giant Queen is being attacked by demons like a swarm of flies. What if she got in the moat? That’s not what the moat is there for but it is something the moat can do.

You need to break into the Caliphs castle. The Druid can change into animals. The Caliph likes presents. What if the Druid changed into a beautiful bird, got into a golden cage, and was given to the Caliph?

You have stolen the goblins war-pig. The rest of the goblins are holed up past a barrier in a narrow stairwell below. What if you pointed the war pig down the stairs and set fire to its arse?

The succubus wants to eat your soul, there is nothing you have that can harm her, you cannot break out of her grasp. Why not make out with the succubus? You might charm her and, at least, die slower.

There is absolutely no other form of entertainment I can think of that does this. Improv theatre might, but you can’t ‘win’ improve. Probably trying to win is a good way to fuck Improv up.

There are RPG’s that get a long way from this idea. This is because people are stupid and if you give them something good wrapped in a necessary shell they will work hard to throw away the good part and obsess about the shell. Then they will make something that is all-shell and be very proud of it.

The presence of Iceberg-Riding is one of the reasons that I think about RPG’s and computer games as being almost non-overlapping schema. Like science and religion. They are both games but computer games are good to the extent that they stop you questioning them. They work perfectly so long as you are happy with all of the things you can’t do.

Want to play Half-Life and fuck off to another part of town to talk to someone new? Can’t do it. Why not? Because it’s a game. It’s stupid, after all, to want to do things in a computer game that you can’t do in a computer game. Only children playing for the first time fail to understand that. They keep pushing against the borders of the system, trying to re-contextualise the information.

Older players already know that your job as a player is to not think about the things that you can’t do, just concentrate as much as you can on what you can do, on what the game presents to you, and the more you do that the better you will be at the game.

Nothing really wrong with that. All games have rules. They are all bounded. That’s what makes them games, even RPG’s. But how many computer games make it necessary that you to re-contextualise information inside the game in ways the designers know they could never have predicted themselves? That if you do not push against the orders of what the game has given you then you will probably fail the game?


“Think beyond me, or die” says the dungeon.

This isn't really related to anything above and should probably be a seperate post but I fucking hate waiting and it's my blog so why should I?

Every conversation has an exchange of power inside it. If only, that you must allow the other person to speak, otherwise it’s not a conversation.

This does not mean that every conversation is about power.

Like every human body has blood inside it. Blood is not the most central or important thing about human life. The purpose of your life is not to pump blood around your body, but it must be there for things to work.

When someone feels that you have given them the correct level of respect, that you have accorded them the status they think they deserve, they become more confident. Far from making them talk more it usually makes them talk less and listen more. Because they can afford to. They are safe.

They also tend to become more charitable and accepting of the difference of others

You can see this the minority of times when it doesn’t work. It pisses you off and sticks in your mind as a memory because is it unusual. Usually, the process works well and you notice none of it. When we are happy with each other we are generally braver and more giving. We function better as a group.

>Have some respect<

>Thanks, you have some too<

>We must both be pretty great guys<

>Yes, what else would you like to tell me.<

So you go round, everyone convinces everyone else that they are human and deserving of respect. They hand the power to be a dick back and forth without anyone using it. Like passing a grenade back and forth, or a gun, the power not to listen. This being done, everyone is happy and the conversation goes on.

It’s harder to exchange power in a fluid way over G+ as you don't have enough information.

One of the things you need to know about someone to communicate with them is their attention pattern. This is communicated mainly by silence. Attention is negative information because when someone is attending very closely, they do less. It is only obvious when compared against all the extra stuff that people are doing all the time. Head and eye movements, body movements, stance, body shape, tension etc.

A brief exchange of eye contact if it’s you they are attending to.

Someone paying attention is like a still pool in the river of their normal being.

And if you are looking at a tiny low-res image of someone with no body then you can’t sense their normal fucking being so you can’t tell if someone is paying attention or not, or what to. And you can’t make eye contact either.

A problem here is that the mind doesn’t know when it isn’t receiving negative information. It can tell when something that’s meant to be there is. When something that’s meant to be there isn’t. But how about the lack of something that isn’t meant to be there?

So the mind gets frustrated. And it doesn’t understand why. It’s been taken off a drug it didn’t know it was on. All that sweet contextualising personal information is shrunk to a tiny trickle. Like gaining altitude and breathing in less oxygen..

So you don’t know when you wait and when to speak because you can’t mesh the groups attention pattern.

The lag on the transmission scrambles the timing by a 10th of a second, under good conditions, so that fucks things up even more.

How can you exchange power with such a person? How can you give them your grenade? And if you can’t give it to them then they can’t give it back. So everyone is sitting there with their fucking grenades and their brains going through cold turkey without realising it.



  1. I actually suffer from Shitwebs a lot of the time, making verbal interaction difficult (I can manage to read stories to my girlfriend, but not get into real dialogue) and video impossible.
    So all the D&D-oids that I am involved in are entirely text-based. And yes, it's slow, because you have to wait for someone to type something, and then sometimes they go back and hmm and haa and edit what they're typing before you've seen it, so it's even slower.

    But the thing about text-based group chat is that time doesn't exist. You can hear what someone is saying half an hour ago, and you have forever to digest and redigest it like some electronic bovine. Which means that you can have five people talking over each other. So you can SEE who isn't responding, who's suggesting, who is just talking about something irrelevant to someone else WHILE YOU ARE ALSO PLAYING.

    Have done some... internet-bound verbal games, and not being physically present makes a mess whenever more than one person is talking.

    And then, in text-based, when it's too slow, people will wander off or not be able to do THAT and something else, when you can listen in on a game while using your eyes for something else.

    Visual is Hungry. It eats your time to make time for itself, for you to eat it at your own leisure.
    If the Titanicians had been deaf, would they have panicked less?

  2. I'm very surprised this only has one comment. It's full of great stuff! Thanks for posting it, Patrick.

  3. "But how many computer games make it necessary that you to re-contextualise information inside the game in ways the designers know they could never have predicted themselves? That if you do not push against the orders of what the game has given you then you will probably fail the game?"

    I think you've found an essential element of D&D.

    And this blog post should be more widely recognized.