Epistemology for roleplayers

22 November, 2007 at 8:55 pm (game mastering, rpg theory) (, , , )

Epistemology talks about the possibility of and criteria for knowledge.

Roleplayers are people who spend a significant amount of their time creating fictional characters and interacting with fictional worlds, often via the fictional characters. In my personal opinion, it would be foolish to not adopt a theory of knowledge that allows sentences such as “The lowly orc stabs Drizzt, who drops to his death in the gorge.” to be meaningful, and further makes most sense from the practical point of view.

The theory of truth often named correspondence says that a proposition (claim that something is true, essentially) is true if and only if it corresponds to the real world. This is, of course, totally useless to an average roleplayer. At least I hope the world isn’t really swarming with vampires who wield katanae, mages searching for Atlantis, werebeasts eating folk, etc.

Coherency is another way of defining truth; it claims that something is true as long as it is coherent with our other beliefs. I find this to be more usefu, as a roleplayer and especially GM. After I know something about a given setting, further additions can be evalued based on the coherency of them: If they conflict with existing facts, accepting them is kinda risky. Not always wrong, but risky nonetheless. Direct contradictions should be avoided almost always, but somewhat dissonant material can be useful.

Especially if Universalis or some other less extreme game where everyone gets to narrate is the order of the day, coherence is a pretty useful concept, also for checking the contributions of others. See also no myth as a related way of gaming.

There is at least one other theory of truth that springs to mind. I don’t remember what it is called, but the content is that truth is whatever works best. This, too, is a useful point of view for roleplayers. Usually, whatever works best, at least in the long run, is also coherent with the pre-established material.

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The difference between philosophy and math

21 November, 2007 at 5:49 pm (mathematics, philosophy) (, )

Mathematics is the art of proving p.

Philosophy is the art of justifying p.

A proof is almost always a justification.

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A random burst of ontology and epistemology, part 1

20 November, 2007 at 7:37 pm (philosophy) (, , , )

Skepticism is a fun way to think. Global skepticism is a philosophical stance according which we can know pretty much nothing. Everyone who is not a skepticist tries, of course, to show that the skepticist is wrong. I have not seen a tight proof along those lines, as of yet. I think it is pretty futile to try, due to skepticism being right. There is precisely one thing we can know with certainty, though reasoning must be assumed to work (if it doesn’t, this entire exercise if futile, but so are any and all responses and claims of futility, so I find myself justified in assuming that reasoning does work).

The argument goes thusly: I think, therefore a thought exists.

Do note that “I” does not necessarily exist. Or the thought might be momentary; time and other measures of change may be illusions.

The skeptic can’t really touch that argument. Neither is it particularly strong argument. The existence of a world in which we live would be nice to know, for example, and would be a lot stronger claim. I just can’t figure out a way to prove it without nontrivial assumptions. This is why I will assume it and the capability of know things about it. There are further justifications for that assumption, gratefully.

It is a fact that I perceive something around me. I will call the immediate source (as opposed to the ultimate or final source, if there is such) of these perceptions a world or a reality or some word that is practically synonym thereof.

If there actually is no world, I will lose little by assuming it, because I can’t perceive whatever else there may exist (otherwise it would, by definition, be part of world, which is a contradiction). If there exists a totally irrational and random world (defined as one about which useful knowledge can’t be gained), I likewise lose little, because no matter what I assume or don’t assume, there is nothing useful I can know about it. At least trying to find patterns keeps me well amused. If a world about which something useful can be known exists, it is smart to assume so, because it is true. A world which works so that all human assumptions about it are false is contradictory, because one could assume that all human assumptions about it all false, which leads a and not a, where “a” means “all human assumptions about it are false”.

Hence, it is justified to assume that there is a world about which one can know things.

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Comments on a bachelor’s thesis on Gadamer and roleplay

20 November, 2007 at 5:58 pm (academic rpg theory, philosophy) (, , , , , )

Opusinsania wrote a bit something about Gadamer’s understanding of play and roleplaying. It is in Finnish, though. He may be willing to share the writing if asked, or not.

http://opusinsania.livejournal.com/3417.html

A very brief summary: First part of the thesis is about Gadamer’s philosophy and such. The interested should utilise Google, Wikipedia and the local university for additional and actually accurate information. What follows is my on-the-fly translation and commentary of the relevant bits. You have been warned.

Gadamer consider both play and art to be fundamentally the same thing, at least in that both of them interact with the person experiencing them and the interaction becomes primary, in a way, and separate from the rest of the world. I am reminded of Christopher I. Lehrich‘s article Ritual Discourse in Role-Playing Games, hosted on the Forge. Back to Gadamer. In his philosophy, a play (or game or art) attains perfection when it becomes a structure, or form. In theater this happens when an actor stops acting and becomes what she was trying to act. A similarity with (some definitions of) immersion and gaming are clear. Gadamer further says that the players will focus solely on the content of the game, which reminds me of flow, which, consequently, has sometimes been connected with immersion (discussion on rpg.net some years back). In spite of this, play can’t happen without a player.

Turku school manifesto by Mike Pohjola was quoted: “Role-playing is immersion (“eläytyminen”) to an outside consciousness (“a character”) and interacting with its surroundings.” A definition of immersion by Pohjola: A process in which the actor’s consciousness melds totally into the character’s consciousness. This is seen as the goal of play by Turku school. Pohjola has said that perfect immersion is impossible to attain, but can be approached (see also: limes in math). One way of understanding this is to think that the player’s consciousness is negated. Pohjola has not shown public support for the alternative (that immersion is a relation to another ontologically independent entity). A third alternative, not from Pohjola: That roleplaying is taking a social mask, stolen from ludology, and immersion has little role. There are intermediate positions.

Another important concept is diegesis, defined as everything that is true within the game. If you are into Forge theory, shared imagined space (SIS) is not that different a concept.

The purpose of gaming can be defined as immersion, the simple joy of gaming (or flow) or social reasons and other concerns outside the game. Aside from Pohjola, every definition of rp considers the social dimension to be essential.

The meat of the thesis (IMO, at least) is the contrasting of Pohjola’s and Gadamer’s understanding of roleplay (play in Gadamer’s case). Gadamer requires interaction to call something play. This can be interaction with, say, a deck of cards (solitaire) or other players. The degree of interaction required is unclear. This can be seen as supporting Pohjola in that one can play by himself (I certainly do), but it is still possible to define roleplaying so that it requires social interaction (which I find smart). Some pervasive games (which are at best fuzzily separate from normal world) may complicate the matters a bit, but I am not sufficiently interested in them to say anything further and they were not mentioned in the thesis.

Both Pohjola and Gadamer consider play to take precedence over normal life and create some sort of self-contained reality. Pohjola took the concept from Hakim Bey.

According to the thesis, a significant difference between Pohjola and Gadamer is related to Gadamer’s claim that game becomes primary and player secondary, while in Pohjola’s model the player consciously becomes the character and then the immersion happens within the player, so the player is still central. In Gadamer’s model the player no longer exists when the games achieves perfection.

I disagree with the point (badly) referenced above. In both models, the player disappears. In Gadamer’s this happens as the game reaches perfection, but the player is still necessary, as there can be no play without someone playing, as was claimed earlier in the thesis. In Pohjola’s model, the player disappears as he achieves perfect immersion (since this is impossible, mere sufficient approximity to this stage can be assumed, but it doesn’t change things significantly, IMO), but is still necessary, due to the other consciousness being the same actual person. Or, if this is not the case, the game would partially happen outside the observable reality of humans, and is thus quite irrelevant. Essentially, I disagree with the point that there is a fundamental difference between those two points of view, but can’t actually say why, probably due to not understanding the argument well enough and due to it being hard to prove negatives.

Opusinsania, if you don’t want this text to be public or here at all, say so and I will act accordingly. If you do decide to publish the paper somewhere, I’d suggest The International Journal of Role Playing.

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