Tags, Threads, and Frames: Toward a Synthesis of Interaction Ritual and Livejournal Roleplayingby Sarah Wanenchak
Abstract:What does online interaction look like? How does it fit with established theories of interaction? The examined setting is an online roleplaying game where the action is entirely transacted through text. The structure of observable interactions within the context of the game is explored. The paper concludes with an analysis of how the observed online interactions are understandable through traditional sociological conventions of face to face interaction.
Keywords: interaction, roleplaying games, livejournal, virtual worlds, communication
IntroductionTypically, conventions of interaction are applied to contexts wherein participants are physically co-present. However, those conventions also apply in a context where one might not expect them to do so. This paper examines a game where sociological rules of interaction are adapted to fit an online context free from face to face encounters, and where these adapted rules are further stretched to fit interactions designed to construct a narrative that exists on both the individual and the communal levels.
I will first outline pertinent work done on microsociology and the study of online and roleplay gaming. I will follow with a description of the methodology of my research, and describe in detail what I have observed. I will then move on to a discussion of the significance of my observations and an explanation of how existing theories of social interaction come into play in the context of those observations.
Review of LiteratureMicrosociology describes, among other things, the constraints under which people interact with each other, traditionally with physical presence being a necessary factor in the interaction. These constraints function on a variety of levels, including tact, information exchange, turn-taking, and the coherence of interaction itself. Harold Garfinkel writes, “In exactly the ways that a setting is organized, it consists of members' methods for making evident that setting's ways as clear, coherent, planful, consistent, chosen, knowable, uniform, reproducible connections - i.e. Rational connections” (1984, p. 34). In order for interactions to function smoothly they must be coherent; participants in interaction will work to make sure that its coherence is maintained, and repaired if broken.
In Erving Goffman's Frame Analysis, the claim is made that social frameworks enable the people operating within them to understand actions of other participants. In addition, multiple social frameworks may be applied at one time, with different events, actions, and items of information fitting into the appropriate frame, and all frames taken together forming a structure within which a participant may make sense of a situation: “[I]t has been argued that the individual's framing of activity establishes its meaningfulness for him” (1986, p.345). This applies extremely well to the concept of a game, where interaction and focus can exist on several different levels, with players focusing on and interacting through the game, as well as directly with each other outside of the world of the game. Goffman also outlines some of the mechanisms for dealing with misunderstandings and mistakes by claiming that when actions cannot be made sense of, rules must be in place to enable participants to deal with “slippage and looseness,” or, as he also terms it, “breaking frame.” He devotes an entire chapter in Frame Analysis to what happens when a frame is broken, suggesting that when one person is unable to remain sufficiently involved in a frame, every other person in that frame is forced to break as well: “Should one participant fail to maintain prescribed attention, other participants are likely to become alive to this fact and perforce involved in considering what the delict means and what should be done about it - and this involvement necessarily removes them from what they themselves should be involved in” (1986, p. 346).
Goffman's work on the setting of the theatre in Frame Analysis leads directly to discussions of roleplay and social interaction, in his description of the distinction between player and character, and in his outline of all the different “scripted identities” that Hamlet takes on at once (1986, pp.128-129). The obvious connection in this case is with the different roles one will find themselves taking on in an RPG: that of their character and that of their player being two obvious examples. Further work in the theatre allows for backstage and “out of frame” communications through his discussion of soliloquies and information channels (“concealment channels”). “The concealment track, as suggested, is much employed to carry the story line” (1986, p.239). Not all communication in an interaction takes place openly or in a straightforward manner. Goffman mentions a similar, related idea in his essay “Replies and Responses” in Forms of Talk with the introduction of what he calls “back-channel cues (facial gestures and non-verbal vocalizations)” (1981, p.12). These serve the purpose of informing a speaker of how well he is expressing himself even as the expression is ongoing: “while the speaker was speaking, he could know, among other things, that he was succeeding or failing to get across, being informed of this while attempting to get across” (1981, p.12).
Goffman focuses on some of the same themes of Frame Analysis in his essay on gameplay, “Fun in Games.” He discusses the ways in which players in a game disattend information that exists outside the game and does not directly affect it, such as the “esthetic, sentimental, or monetary value of the equipment employed” (1961, p.19), under what he calls “rules of irrelevance.” He claims that games order presently occurring events into a frame, which determines how all events within that frame will be understood. Finally, Goffman explains how any “irrelevant” matter existing outside the frame which serves as a distraction to the game participants may be integrated into the focused interaction in such a way that it will not be a source of embarrassment or disruption to any of the participants. Goffman accords these integrations of distracting events the more widely understood terms of “charm, tact, or presence of mind” (1961, p.48).
The works discussed here do a great deal to define and explain rules of social interaction, but they are based primarily around the context of face to face interaction and fall short when it comes to interaction taking place online. When interaction is no longer face to face or taking place in real time, the rules must be restructured to fit their new context.
In his examination of tabletop roleplaying games, Shared Fantasy, Gary Alan Fine notes that while the basic building blocks of the game “worlds” are found in rulebooks, the games themselves are player-constructed and the narrative of each game session is a team effort by all players involved. Furthermore, the gameworlds that these players construct are “systematic, logical, and realistic to the assumptions that they make” (1983, p.12). With regard to the realism and logic behind the games, Fine notes that players must agree on the basic rules and norms of the created realities through which they move; that “a common frame of reference is necessary” (1983, p.80). This requires players to communicate with each other about what is expected in any given game. Players in a game must have a reasonable idea of how the events in a game will proceed and what other players are reasonably likely to do in order to create meaningful and coherent lines of action for their own characters.
“[P]layers require this logic, both to incorporate their game selves into the fantasy world - that is, 'feel' what the world is like - and also to construct lines of action for their characters with a reasonable presumption of what will happen as a result. Game logic primarily involves a sense of causal consistency - a perceived connection between cause and effect” (Fine, 1983, p.83).
Fine also devotes an entire chapter to the ways in which his observations of tabletop roleplaying games intersect with Goffman's Frame Analysis. Goffman has already explored the structures of play in “Fun in Games,” and the essay refers to the ideas in Frame Analysis on several points. Fine brings games and Goffman's work on frames together explicitly in his discussion, pointing out that in a roleplaying game players must move between the frames of the real physical world in which they exist and upon whose essential rules much of the logic of the game is often based, and the frame of the gameworld itself. In addition to those two frames, there are also various frames designed for communication which do not comfortably exist in either the real world or the game frames. In keeping with Goffman's work on the structure of dramaturgy, how information moves between frames must often be strictly controlled; something that a player learns may often not reasonably be known by the player's character, since the character must remain “ignorant” of the player. Fine says that this does not always work, using the example of a player who learns that his character's treasure is soon to be stolen and therefore has his character take precautions to protect it that he would not otherwise have taken. (1983, p.190) While there are rules which govern information exchange between frames, they are not always followed strictly, depending on the discretion of the player. This may or may not damage the internal consistency of the game, depending on the impact of the information and how it is used by the player/character.
Fine also mentions that interpreting how a frame must be used can sometimes be problematic, leading to mistakes and inconsistencies in game narrative that can be resolved through communication and clarification between players. He relates an anecdote wherein a player is asked his age by another, and, confused, the player relates his character's age rather than his own. In another anecdote, one player asks another where he was; the player responds with his physical location only to be told that the question was referring to character in the game the two players had been discussing.
These ambiguities are resolved quickly, because the speaker will typically provide a corrective account (Goffman 1974, p.480) which has the effect of protecting the other from embarrassment as well as gaining the information originally desired. Indeed, if such a corrective is not given, it may well be impossible to know that a misframing has occurred (p.201).
Roleplaying games of the variety that Fine examines are not confined to the tabletop, however: they can be found on the internet in the form of text based Multiple User Dungeons (MUDs), worlds constructed through textual description in which players interact through a variety of characters. More recently this form of game has been represented in graphically-based Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft, and, though it is different in some important ways, Second Life. Sherry Turkle examines MUDs in her work on the internet and identity, Life on the Screen, though her focus is less on the structure of the games and more on the psychological effect of the games on the players. Torill Elvira Mortensen writes about the connection between tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons and MUDs, claiming that despite the differences in gameplay and structure, one is a direct successor to the other. This is echoed by Matt Barton, who states that the first known MUD was built with a basis in “D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) type character creation” (2008, p.38). T.L. Taylor agrees that online fantasy games owe a great deal to tabletop RPGs (p.21). Barton also draws a direct line from MUDs to MMORPGs, saying that one evolved into the other (2008, p.37). Therefore, both MUDs and MMORPGs have their roots in the world of tabletop RPGs, and all three are games containing an explicitly social component. Barton writes of MUDs: “[I]t seems safe to say that the appeal of the game is more about interacting with other players than roaming about the countryside killing things” (2008, p.40). He further claims that the purpose of the game changes for a gamer over time as they become more entrained with the gameworld, putting more of themselves into it:
- In my own extensive experience playing MUDs throughout the mid-1990s, I saw the pattern repeated many times. First, players are obsessed...with finding the best equipment, fighting monsters, gaining levels, and rising in rank. Eventually, though, they are drawn into parties of other adventurers, where they not only pool their resources to fight bigger battles but also make friends. Inevitably, the player will spend more time socializing with these friends, or role-playing, than going on quests or earning experience points (2008, p.42).
The structure of interaction in multiplayer games has been further explored by Tony Manninen in “Interaction Forms and Communicative Actions in Multiplayer Games.” In the paper, Manninen examines different facets of interaction in multiplayer gaming, using Communicative Action Theory as a framework. In the course of his analysis, he concludes that game interaction is implicitly social and has much in common with real world interaction, though it is not always as complex. Further, he emphasizes the importance of linguistic communication in certain kinds of games: “Language-based communication forms a strategic backbone within games and game communities that support and value the communication aspects of playing (e.g. RPGs)” (2009).
As suggested above, theories of interaction and observations of many different kinds of RPGs can fit together in a coherent way, as RPGs contain a significant and vital element of socialization in how they are played. In the following sections, I aim to explore this in further depth in the context of one particular type of online game.
MethodologyThe focus of the study is a text-based “pan fandom” RPG called Tabula Rasa, hosted on the site Livejournal.com. Research of the setting was a combination of close and extensive observation and historical research. Most of the in-game events are open to non-players, but there are other communities and websites that require membership in the game to access. I obtained membership in the game, which gave me access to all player pages and information, as well as the game's planning and major communication community. The game's main community was of primary observational importance, followed by individual character “journals” or weblogs where private in-game interactions occur. In addition, I observed events in the player planning community. Finally, the game's wiki, which is a separate webpage featuring information on the most important locations in the game (which is written and maintained by both game moderators and players) was a useful resource for basic information about characters, players, and the world of the game.
Description of Research Setting and ObservationsAs said above, the game on which this study is focused is a text-based RPG. The RPG itself contains approximately 80 active players (a precise count is difficult, as some players may be inactive but not yet removed from the game by the moderators) and approximately 344 active characters (again, a precise count is difficult for the reasons listed above). Most players play more than one character. The majority of the players are female, white, and in their mid to late 20's, though players also represent a range of ages. The characters themselves are drawn from a variety of fictional canon. Television, books, comic books, movies, and video games are the primary cultural sources.
The game is not a “game” by the most traditional definition: there is no ultimate goal and no system of points, and the focus is on the creation and development of an ongoing story, both on the individual and the communal level. All “rules” of the game exist to further that end and to enable players to develop their characters and plots in a way that all players will be likely to find acceptable, and enjoyable. Gameplay itself takes the form of written narrative in the style of traditional fiction. Writing is usually done from third-person point of view and in past tense, although players are free to choose whatever tense and whatever point of view they are most comfortable with. Although this can create a slightly jarring effect on a reader, it does nothing to impede the mutually grasped coherence held and maintained between players. The gameplay structure is as follows: one player will write a few short paragraphs describing a setting and the character they are playing within that setting, called an “EP”, or “Entrance Post”. An example of an EP, featuring Kate McNab from the Canadian television series Slings and Arrows (the text in brackets is a message from the player to other players, not the character; such messages are a common occurrence.):
- The doctor says as long as she's been a runner, she should be able to keep running but she currently is having to rethink that idea. She's still ran every day up till now but something has changed. Shifted. Gone totally out of whack. She's never been this grateful to have the compound (the end of her run) in sight and she can feel her legs starting to wobble as she slows down. Her face feels tight and hot and the world is spinning a little bit. Crap.
Right, maybe not a good idea after all. [open to all! Nothing serious, she's just overheated and a little dehydrated. She's four months along and has a noticeable, but still small belly. She may or may not puke on you. Depends who you send me!! :)]
Other players may then choose to interact with the initial character, using one of their own characters. Gameplay is then turn based, with one player writing a short unit of prose, called a “tag”, which the other player responds to. Each interaction is thus organized like a conversation described in a narrative and constructed in turns, called a “thread.”
It is important to note that all threads are between two characters as a rule, unless it is agreed that another will join the thread, in which case a “tagging order” is established and proceeds, for example, A-B-C-A-B-C and so on. Threads are generally limited to three participating characters, simply because with four or more characters the amount of in-thread information that each character must react to within his or her tag becomes prohibitively complex.
All EPs are posted in the game community, with the exception of private threads, which are usually done when one character wishes to engage in an interaction with another character alone, often for a specific narrative purpose. These private threads are therefore often planned out in more detail than normal threads, which are frequently completely unplanned. The format is that of a normal EP, except that it is posted in a character's personal Livejournal page. Upon completion of the thread, a post is made to the main gameplay community which contains a link to the thread. It is a universally understood norm that no one else other than the intended characters are supposed to take part in these threads; to do so would violate coherence by introducing an event which a player was not prepared to acknowledge; it would also be discourteous. However, the posted private thread is considered to be part of the history of the gameworld, and thus is a real and valid event for everyone, though a character is not expected to know about it if they would not have reason to.
The final form of EP that needs to be considered is a “gathering post”. This variety of EP acts as a normal EP in that one character sets the scene. However, each other character's tag acts as a sort of second-order EP, and they may be tagged by any other character. They may also have several threads running simultaneously.
After each initial character's tag into the gathering post (referred to as a “top-level” tag), threads proceed as normal via turn-taking as discussed above. Gathering posts are not rare but do not happen nearly as often as normal EPs, and they are usually reserved for parties. It may be helpful to think of the EP as a “room”, with each character's top-level tag announcing their presence within the room, and thereby opening them to threads with other characters present in the room.
All EPs take place in different locations around the game's world. The basic framework of the world was constructed by the game's creator, but the details of the world itself, such as physical descriptions of places and things, are left largely up to the players. There is some effort to make all these details agree and not to have multiple conflicting descriptions of one place, so the game’s wiki contains information on the appearance and function of island locations for the use of players. This information is, however, not so detailed as to preclude further flexibility with descriptions.
One of the interesting effects of this combination of world design and gameplay structure is that spatiotemporal events and arrangements occur that would not be possible in the real world or in a traditionally coherent narrative. To explain: Tom's player might set his EP in the kitchen. Tom is then tagged by three other characters, Mike, Jim, and Neil. These three conversations or threads are then understood to be occurring simultaneously, in that one that exists physically higher up on the page is not automatically understood to be occurring before a thread lower down on the page. There is no temporal order imposed within the threads under an EP unless the player wishes there to be one and makes this wish explicit through backstage communication of some kind (a small note at the bottom of the EP could be considered backstage, as it does not exist within the frame of the EP itself). This is laid out explicitly in the game's wiki:
- In order to ensure maximum playability, Tabula Rasa has concurrent continuity. What this means is that all threads under an entrance post exist within their own reality and do not necessarily affect each other. They are played as separate entities, each from the same starting point (the EP), but with their own unique series of events. Each is understood to have happened. As such, continuity is more fluid and not strictly maintained.
I have discussed the most important, readily observable aspects of the setting; I will now discuss the ramifications of the setting, and how what occurs in that setting is understandable through traditional rules of face to face interaction.
DiscussionThe game that I have described is focused around a narrative that is communally constructed through the interactions of players and characters, and in order to understand the game, the structure and form of those interactions must be grasped as well. Most importantly, in-game interactions follow many of the same rules and conventions that govern interaction in the real world between people who are in each other’s physical presence. Therefore, it can be said that sociological conventions of interaction do not necessarily require physical presence, and may be observed to be in play between fictional characters moving through a fictional world.
Frames are vital to understanding the structure of Tabula Rasa's gameworld. Indeed, frames allow players to engage with the gameworld in such a way that their narrative construction and interactions become sensible to themselves and to each other. Most obviously, there exist the two frames that establish the separation between character and player. One single encounter can take place with different aspects of it referring to different frames, with characters interacting within a thread in one, and players interacting in another frame, talking about the thread outside of gameplay. Within the game itself, each concurrent thread can be understood as its own frame, self-contained and not necessarily overlapping with any other thread/frame without special provision being made, or the occurrence of a breakage in frame.
Frames are important for making sense of the various types of communication that occur within and without the game. I have described above how occasionally, within an EP, a player will make a note at the bottom, perhaps giving instructions about appropriate tagging to other players. A player might make a note that says “my character is upset, so I only wish to have characters who know my character well tag into the EP,” thus signaling that she does not wish to engage in a particular kind of interaction, and, by extension, that she does not wish to construct a particular type of narrative. This note is within the body of the EP, but the text of the note is usually smaller than the rest of the text, thus signaling to readers that the text is understood to be within a different frame than the rest of the EP. Goffman identifies some instances in which a writer might communicate through multiple frames in his writing: “Given that the writer will employ punctuation marks and footnotes as part of the directional track, one finds that he also uses parentheses and brackets to comment in another voice - another role and another frame - on his own text” (1986, p.227).
Therefore, it is possible to have two separate frames operating and carrying information within the same EP. Both serve the coherence of the game, since the information contained in one frame establishes a setting which others may build upon, while the other conveys information to the players about how the EP's author would like people to tag, or about how they may sensibly expect the encounter to go. An example of this, drawn from the EP quoted above where a pregnant Kate McNab attempts to go for a run:
[open to all! Nothing serious, she's just overheated and a little dehydrated. She's four months along and has a noticeable, but still small belly. She may or may not puke on you. Depends who you send me!! :)]
This establishes, separately from the narrative portion of the EP, some facts about the character for the use of other players who may tag: first, that anyone may engage in a thread with Kate; second, that she is not in serious physical trouble; third, that she is noticeably pregnant; and fourth, that depending on which other character is a participant in the encounter, Kate's player may decide to have Kate vomit. All of this information is to assist in making an encounter - in the form of a thread - more sensible and easier to navigate for another player; the detail about Kate's belly is designed to more clearly establish a reality upon which both parties are agreed, reducing the chances for dissonance in the act of storytelling.
There are several signals in the text itself that convey the message that the text is to be understood as existing within a different frame than the EP. First, as mentioned above, the text is a smaller size than the rest of the EP. Second, the text is in brackets. There is another denotation that is not used here but is nevertheless common: the insertion of “OOC:” between the brackets and the body of the text. OOC stands for “Out Of Character” and even more clearly establishes the separate frame within which the text resides. These signals are important to note because without them, the EP would be far less sensible. An EP which contained the bracketed text without brackets and with no smaller font size would at first be a confusing read; the player reading the EP would undoubtedly figure out that the EP text and the note text are meant to convey two separate lines of information, but it would not be as immediately obvious.
Notes like the bracketed text at the bottom of EPs can also be understood as part of a range of forms of communication which serve to regulate activity within the gameworld and to maintain coherence. Goffman speaks of these forms of communication as directional signals:
- In doings involving joint participation, there is to be found a stream of signs which is itself excluded from the content of the activity but which serves as a means of regulating it, bounding, articulating, and qualifying its various components and phases. One might speak here of directional signals and, by metaphorical extension, the track that contains them. (1986, p.210)
Goffman explains that examples of these signals may be found in writing, as mentioned above, in the forms of punctuation marks: “it comprises one corpus on conventions, one code, that is learned consciously, often all too consciously. In any case, these marks nicely illustrate the special character of the directional stream - the quality of not being attended focally yet closely organizing what is attended” (1986, pp.210-211). In Tabula Rasa, directional signals in writing take on more complex forms than punctuation. In addition to the notes at the bottoms of EPs, there are posts in Slated (the game’s plotting community) which may explain the background of a more complex EP, and emails and instant messages between players which plan for a plotted narrative or simply clarify the events in a thread which is ongoing.
Among the different types of directional signals, Goffman refers to what he calls “regulators,” signals which specifically function to regulate the flow and direction of a conversation:
- [T]ell[ing] the speaker to continue, repeat, elaborate, hurry up, become more interesting, less salacious, give the other a chance to talk, etc...The most common regulator is the head nod, the equivalent of the verbal mm-hmm; other regulators include eye contacts, slight movements forward, small postural shifts, eyebrow raises, and a whole host of other small nonverbal acts. (1986, pp.213-214)
While turn-taking is already regulated by the structure of the game, regulators within a thread may perform other functions. There may exist within a tag descriptions of the kinds of nonverbal acts that Goffman lists, but the descriptions of character's thoughts and feelings within a tag may also be said to act as regulators, guiding the flow and direction of the interaction in-game, because while one's character must disattend what another character is thinking, the player may see it and subtly plan her own character's actions and speech accordingly.
Frames also assist in maintaining understandable events within the narrative itself. Tags may be understood as units of the “conversation” that comprises a thread, but they are also units of narrative, because it is within them that the actual story is told. Within threads characters think and feel, perform actions, remember their pasts and react to an emergent reality. They interact with each other, form relationships and break them, make love, raise children and, sometimes, die. It is within the many thousands of threads that make up the gameworld that the gameworld itself is constructed, through description, action, and dialogue.
Frames are crucial within Tabula Rasa in that they help to make in-game interaction coherent by separating different lines of communication that serve different purposes, and also by separating different information states. Different information states must necessarily apply to characters and players. Players know things that characters may not know, and different characters know things that other characters may not know. Goffman explains information states in his discussion of dramatic scripting, which is relevant to the setting, since with players “acting” behind different characters there are obvious parallels between Tabula Rasa and a staged play:
- Corresponding to these various arrangements will be various information states. By an “information state” I mean the knowledge an individual has of why events have happened as they have, what the current forces are, what the properties and intents of the relevant persons are, and what the outcome is likely to be. In brief, each character at each moment is accorded an orientation, a temporal perspective, a “horizon”... [D]uring a performance the characters projected by the performers act as if they possess different information states, different from one another and, of course, less complete than the one the actors and the production crew possess. Note, the make-believe acceptance of different information states, different from one's fellow characters and different from the production staff, is an absolute essential if any sense is to be made out of the inner drama on the stage. (1986, pp.133-134)
This is fairly intuitive, for reasons described above: if characters knew everything that the players know, they would, for example, know that they are merely characters being controlled by players in a work of collaborative fiction, which would necessarily render that work of fiction nonsensical. If characters were to know things that only players know, without some sensible in-game reason for the acquisition of that knowledge, it would be a profound threat to the sensibility of the game. However, such a thing does occasionally occur. Again, as discussed above, Fine encountered this phenomenon in his examination of table-top RPGS:
- The character is supposed to operate under the constraints of a closed awareness context with regard to his animator, although this of course is a pretense. Because player, person, and character share a brain, this separation of knowledge on occasion is ignored. Characters do draw on their animator's knowledge of game events outside of their own knowledge. Also players and persons are unaware of the specialized knowledge that their characters have. These problems arise when one upkeys from one's primary framework. That is, it is not considered as problem when persons admit knowledge of the game structure or actions of the characters, and no dispute arises because players know what their characters know. Only in situations that in theory are closed awareness contexts but in reality are pretense awareness contexts (in which advantages are to be gained in the application of awareness) do difficulties occur. (1983, p.188)
The “advantages” to which Fine refers are applications of knowledge which directly assist a player in a game that involves a specific goal - gathering treasure or defeating a monster, as two examples. Fine uses the example of a player learning that another player's character plans to steal his character's treasure, and therefore having his character take precautions that the character would not otherwise have taken. He notes that this “contaminates the role-playing,” but that it happens anyway (1983, p.190). However, in Tabula Rasa there are no goals beyond the act of storytelling, and so anything that “contaminates the role-playing” takes on a much greater significance. Characters must under no circumstances know things that they could not know; if this occurs, the game narrative's coherence is wounded. Indeed, at one point a significant enough problem that Manda, one of the players, made a post about it in “The Clean Slate”, Tabula Rasa's feedback and suggestion community (note: “pup” is player slang for “character”):
- I’ve noticed lately that some characters have been deviating knowledge and have been using it for their characterizations, plots, and threads. My issue, however, is that the knowledge gleaned are thoughts and information that the characters should have no access to (ie: narrative, thoughts, threads the pup would have no knowledge of). However, it’s being played out like the pup does hear these kinds of things...I suppose this post is just to encourage that people please, please just make sure that their pup hasn’t magically become psychic. Some information is meant to stay personal and that’s why it’s only a thought. It can start to affect interactions, relationships, and gameplay and I know that we as a game can put a stop to the omniscient knowledge that really shouldn’t be possible.
Tags contain both a character's inner thoughts and reactions, which are understood to be hidden from the other participating character, and the reactions and expressions which that character physically displays. A player has access to all the information in a tag, and they make use of all of it, provided that usage is sensible. As an example, a tag in which the character Neil is reflecting on his broken relationship with his ex-husband, Logan, as they converse:
- I know I'm not in our house in the Hamlet, or that first hut that I haven't even seen in over a year, and I know that Linus isn't going to be curled up at the foot of the bed with Max. Only a handful of seconds for me to remember, and it's never a disappointment when reality settles in, but it's something. A little pang of regret at two years wasted and a little bit of homesickness for a person that was my whole fucking world for that time.
Two years that I sorta owe my life to. I wouldn't be where I am, if not for all that, good and bad.
"Wasn't a bad speech, by the way," I say, lips twitching faintly, "My votes are all taken up, though."
Neil's last sentence, which is spoken aloud, is in reference to a man they are discussing who is running for public office. Within the body of the tag, this spoken sentence is all that Logan's player may have Logan react to in her own tag, since it is the only part of the tag that Logan would reasonably perceive. Though Logan's player may read Neil's thoughts and memories, she may not allow her own character to be aware of them, since there is no reasonable way that her character would be. In this way, sensible in-game interaction is maintained, and that interaction is recognizable as a form of Goffman’s dramaturgical interaction, as well as conventional face to face interaction, despite the fact that neither the characters nor the players are physically present with each other.
ConclusionIn the above discussion and analysis, I have laid out the ways in which sociological conventions of social interaction function not only in the familiar settings of real conversations and other interactions in the real world, but in the less familiar setting of a roleplaying game played out through text on the internet. Even within the bounds of the kind of communally constructed narrative to which such a game gives rise, rules of interaction are in play and help to make the game functional and sensible to its players. Parallels can and have been drawn between the game and a play performed on stage. Undoubtedly, the text-based game of Tabula Rasa and more conventional instances of interaction are deeply connected and understandable in many of the same ways. This analysis indicates that many other forms of game may be understood to operate along the same lines, and further study may confirm this.
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