Cognitive vs. Impassioned Play
I've thought for some time that one of the reasons we get so bollixed up when we talk about play styles is because although we often assume that we approach game the same way, we really, very much do not. I think there are a couple of things that we've neglected in discussion that merit more focus: the manner of our engagement with the game and the method of influence we choose to affect the game. Right now, I'm going to be talking about the first one and will cover the other in later posts.
Earlier this year when Brand I were talking Myer's Briggs and gaming, we talked about whether a person, a player, or a character was a Thinking or a Feeling type. Since then, I've spent a lot of time, both online and IRL watching the trouble that pops up when strong T's and strong F's try to do, well… anything together, but especially when they are working on theory and design, or in game creating stories together. More than ever I am convinced that a further understanding of this area would help us build better play groups, create more compatible play, deliberately design games that could choose to foster a particular kind of play, or accommodate different kinds of play in the design.
That said, I've consciously ditched the words Thinking & Feeling because I think they misleadingly point towards quantifying intellectual or emotional capability, which is decidedly NOT what I'm looking to do. Instead, I'm looking for a way to measure to what extent we consciously construct our games, and whether our goals in game trend towards being visceral or cerebral.
Some things to note before I go any father:
- This isn't an either/or proposition; I suspect most people will have at least a little of each, even if they have a very strong preference for one.
- This isn't a question of capability. Just because a player has a habitual place on the scale doesn't mean in the right situation she couldn't act another way and do it well.
- There is no value attached to either end of the scale; there is no better, just better for you or better for the situation at hand.
So, instead, I've gone with Cognitive and Impassioned as the two ends of the scale. The Cognitive side speaks to a certain amount of, well, cognition in game. Decisions in the game are made consciously, deliberately, sometimes strategically and are usually based on a specific set of data points. The cognitive manner of play hopes to cerebrally engage the player in the process of playing the game or creating the story. Conversely, the Impassioned manner of play hopes to viscerally engage the player in the moment of play or the context of the story. Decisions in the game are made holistically, intuitively, in reaction to the emotional context of the story and its game objects (characters, setting, plot, etc).
When you interact with the game, do you want it to make you think or do you want it to make you feel, or both and in what proportion? When you are playing a suspense thriller kind of plot, will you feel the story churning viscerally in the pit of your stomach, or will you be endlessly, cerebrally trying to figure out whodunnit? Through the course of the game, do you forecast ahead to optimize the effect of the story/moment/action or do you intuit it, letting the passion of the moment guide you? Of course, you can be in the middle, too, but how far in the middle, where do you fall? What kind of gratification are you looking for as a result of the game, and what techniques, methods, talents, and skills do you use to achieve it?
Hint: In determining where you sit on the scale between Cognitive and Impassioned play, it is helpful to understand your payoff, your goal and, to a lesser extent, your socket.
So, in the last post, I stated my payoff as: "to experientially feel a sense of emotional euphoria as a result of a powerfully engaging story". My goal in game is to experience as intense a catharsis as possible; the stories that churn my ovaries are full of deep visceral complications: tragedies, love, sex, betrayal, revenge and brutality. And in a character socket, I want to be down in the muck and the mire of the emotional messiness, and to live in and react to the moment of the game.
That's a pretty clear emotional agenda in the context of cognitive vs. impassioned play. It can be paraphrased as: "I want to create an emotionally charged story, experience it viscerally, and let it be transformative to me." On the scale between cognitive play and impassioned play, I'm closer to the impassioned edge than, well, most anyone I've ever played with (though I'm sure there are people with an even stronger tendency than I have). The purple dot is me:
Brand, the red dot, is an impassioned player too, but in his case, visceral intensity is not the whole end game: it's an important facet to payoff, but not the payoff itself. As a strong story socket player (with a massive and talented wealth of GM experience), Brand requires that the story that he's working on carries strong visceral resonance and impact because to Brand, that's what gives stories lasting value. He's intensely intuitive and non-constructed about the way he shepherds stories into existence, but he draws on an extremely impressive mental anthology of mythology, literary history and rhetoric which can't help but temper his impassioned participation with a cognitive influence.
So, I'll end this post quickly before Brand gets a big(ger) head. The point is that there is more than one way to skin, cook and eat your delicious payoff. You can deliberately construct it, which makes it a cognitive exercise, you can intuit your way by reacting to the emotionality of the moment in an impassioned pursuit of your goal, or you can fall somewhere in between.
Note: If you're reading along with this and you're nodding your head thinking "I'm a really smart and thinky kind of person, and I feel really good when/after roleplaying, I must be both!" Then you've missed the point. Scroll up and read the post again with this in mind: Mo's a competitively intelligent Process and Systems Analyst who's prone to deconstructive analysis, and she's all way over on the impassioned side of the scale.