Authority and context: a problem to be solved?

Ian asked a good question in the comments of yesterday’s post.

I’m really curious if you think there are any good ways of assuaging the differential of power granted by that context and history.

The short answer is: I do believe that there are techniques that can provide you with context in a new group, and I’m going to discuss one in depth tomorrow.  But first, I want to talk a bit about whether this is actually a problem that needs solving at all.

The context ‘problem’ is present in most forms of social interaction.  When you first meet someone it can be difficult to accurately assess when they are (for instance) being sarcastic or ironic.  It is simple lack of experience.  You have no shared history with the person in question, and that means that you do not have a body of context to use as a baseline in judgments.

This is not really a problem.  Especially since the inverse is true: the more context you have, the better your judgments.  This is one of the advantages in longer-term play in roleplaying.  As you accumulate context you can make more powerful statements.  It seems clear, then, that we do not want to cut anyone off on the high end.

So any solution would have to come in the form of giving new players a higher ‘floor’ of context.  The minimum context would have to be raised.  As I said, I have some ideas about this, but they are far from perfect.  However, I remain unconvinced that the context issue is a problem to be solved rather than (as Fred suggested) simply a reality to be dealt with.

To my mind it acts more as a constraint to be considered.  Some designs or incidences of play may be better served by having more context for new players, and some may not be.  It is something to be considered like physical space or medium or anything else that impacts play.

That said, I do think that identifying the role that context plays, and more interestingly to me, the sources of context in play is important.  By understanding how and why context interacts with play, and where that context comes from, we can begin playing with it directly and intentionally.  We can shape play through context in design, and that strikes me as a lot of fun.

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