RPG Theory Journey – Part VI

RPG Theory Journey 6Anchors revisited

I’m going to go over my thoughts on ‘anchors’ a bit more, as I feel their role is somewhat fundamental to my evolving model of play. In particular I’m going to try and explain why I see them as non-diegetic, since this has already raised some debate.

‘Shared’ fantasy isn’t really shared

Right, first thing’s first. The basis for a lot of what I’m saying is that, though the idea of shared fantasy is at the heart of roleplaying, the fantasy itself (even the Shared-Imaginary-Space fantasy) isn’t really shared. In reality the imaginings of the individual participants are distinct diegeses existing entirely in their own minds.

Roleplaying succeeds in creating the illusion of shared fantasy through processes of play that align these individual imaginings so that they resemble one another sufficiently for participants to believe that they are interacting inside one shared fantasy (perhaps that should read ‘make-believe that they are interacting inside one shared fantasy’)

Fantasy alignment through ‘anchors’

Alignment of individual fantasies is achieved by establishing/ communicating what has happened or how things appear so that everyone’s imaginings can be made to resemble one another. Each stipulation about the fantasy is an anchor that draws the imaginings of individual participants together along a similar course. The more anchors there are, the closer together the threads of fiction are brought. Also different anchors have different weights of influence, some being more tightly defined and others more open to individual interpretation. ‘A large rock’ for example is a fairly loose description. Additional information is required to establish whether it can be lifted or used to hide behind.

So why are anchors non-diegetic?

In a nutshell my assertion is that anchors are non-diegetic because the anchor itself and the effect the anchor has on individual participants’ imaginings are quite different things. The anchor is non-diegetic; in fact even the influence the anchor exerts is non-diegetic. Only the consequences of that influence (the imaginings that are created in the diegeses as a result of the anchor being established) are diegetic.

Note that the effect the anchors have on the paths of the two players’ fiction threads  in the diagram above is similar but not the same.

Minotaur or Minosaur?

A few years ago I participated in a game in which one of the characters was Shaaaarghraio, a large and powerful Minotaur; he lumbered around hitting things with his great-axe a lot. These statements about Shaaaarghraio are anchors (stipulations of what he is like that establish how we should imagine him). As a result we are able to build a similar minds-eye picture of him (typically that shown on the left of the diagram below.)

However, when presented with the exact same anchors, the effect of their influence on the imaginings of someone else I know was entirely different. For some reason known only to them their brain conjured up the image that Shaaaarghraio was kind of like a dinosaur and the idea appealed to them so much that it stuck. In their mind that’s what he was.

Anchors are language

Anchors are language. We speak to one another or write things down and they allow us to communicate our thoughts. If I tell you that I am imagining a ‘sword’ you understand what I mean by a ‘sword’ and you can imagine one also. The image in your mind isn’t an image of the sword I’m imagining as I’m not sending you the image that’s in my mind. Instead I’m using a kind of association shorthand and sending you a symbol (the word ‘sword’), which hopefully represents something similar to us both.

When your brain receives that symbol, you interpret it and select a sword (or at least what you understand a ‘sword’ to be) from the set of imaginary swords available in your mind. That’s what you imagine. If I so choose I could then provide additional information so you can adjust your imaginary sword to bring our imaginings closer together.

The point being that the sword I’m imagining, the word (symbol) ‘sword’ and the sword you’re imagining are all different things. And the relationship between the imaginary swords and the word ‘sword’ is the same as the relationship between an anchor and whatever it’s describing in the diegesis. The effect in the diegesis is diegetic but the anchor and the influence it has on the diegesis are external, parts of a non-diegetic mechanism designed to convey information to the diegesis.

Does that make sense?

So what?

At the moment there isn’t really a ‘so what’, I’m merely exploring ways of thinking about what goes on during roleplay. Hopefully at various points along the line this will elicit useful discussion. If not, it will certainly give my simple brain a workout.

As always any comments or observations are most welcome.

3 thoughts on “RPG Theory Journey – Part VI

  1. Fang Langford

    Actually, when I suggested that anchors have two sides like a coin was because of how hard it is to think of an anchor which has no diegetic effect and also hard to think of a random, yet nontrivial, unification of SIS that doesn’t in some way involve an anchor.


    p.s. It’s an intriguing thought that when all the players imaginations get on the same page, it might result in an anchor. Not one intentionally added.

  2. Tumac Post author

    Hi there Fang. Good to hear from you again.

    I’m thinking that an anchor requires some associated ‘but that’s what we agreed through play’ weight behind it, but as you say there is definitely a case for additional similarities between diegeses occurring unprompted as the result of players just happening to be on the same page. Without an ‘anchor’ these similarities remain mutable however. Hence my inclination to distinguish between the two.

    Given that anchors are interpreted by the participants and each has a slightly different idea of ‘what was agreed through play’ this may not be a useful distinction however.

    I’m still inclined to see the anchor and its effect as more separate than ‘two sides of the same coin’ and am curious to understand why our viewpoints differ. It may not be significant and in most cases various perspectives are equally valid (i.e. it’s not a case of being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’) but IMHO it is useful to discuss these things and test differing viewpoints against one another as a means of achieving greater understanding.

    Since the purpose of an anchor is to influence the diegeses I’d agree it is going to have a diegetic effect most of the time, but how that effect equates to the anchor might not be obvious and will be different for each participant. Also (though the anchor continues to exist) if it isn’t referred back to it can be all but forgotten in the diegeses. Sometimes anchors may even be ignored entirely by one or more participants as soon as they are introduced. So to me, if the anchor and its effects in the diegeses was a coin, it would have to be a coin with one head and from zero to [number of participants] tails.

    Are we perhaps thinking of anchors slightly differently?

    If I’m understanding right, in the context of this discussion your definition of SIS would equate to all the similarities, both the consequences of anchors and unprompted unification. Is that how you see it?

    Since your last comment I’ve read some of what you’ve written on Shared Imaginary Space and am conscious that you’ve covered a lot of this ground before. So thanks again for taking time to discuss my mental meanderings with me. Your input is most useful and greatly appreciated.

  3. Pingback: Teaching is like game mastering « Cogito, ergo ludo.

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