Over at Sin Aesthetics, Mo is talking a lot about what she calls Pull.
Go and read it.
I’m still not entirely clear about the conceptual space that Pull inhabits. It seems to be defined largely in terms of what it is not.
Pull is not Push.
Push is easy enough to define. Push is the development of story/drama/theme through competitiveness. Players/GMs each have their own goals and push against each other. Something cool (hopefully) emerges.
Push has often rubbed me the wrong way, but I’ve never thought of it as being relevant to gaming before. Where has it bugged me? Primarily in the law. The U.S. court system is based on push. There are two sides to every case and they push against each other. The hope of the system is that the truth will emerge from this conflict.
The problem is that there is no reason to think that the truth will emerge from pushing in court. Lawyers lie. Despite the fact that it is illegal, witnesses lie. Even the side who is in the right will often (usually?) lie in order to make their case stronger. Is there any reason to think that the truth will emerge from the conflict of two sides who are both trying to obscure it? Nope.
Now, the case is a bit different in roleplaying games. Conflict is generally central to a story. It seems natural to think that by setting up conflicts, one can create stories worth telling. So far so good. People have had a lot of success with games based on Push mechanics and assumptions (most games are, more or less).
Let’s take a step back, though. Are the players around a table trying to do anything besides tell a story? Sure. They want to have fun. They want to share immersion in a collaborative imaginary space. They want to tell not just a story, but their characters’ stories. There is no reason to think that Pushing will work well for all of these.
Sure, Pushing might contribute to fun if you assume a specific type of competitive mindset. That’s an assumption I am not willing to make, though. Even at my most competitive in gaming (conventional D20 type games tend to bring this out in me), I don’t really want to beat the other players, I just want to make my guy the best he can be. If other people help me to do that, I am usually going to have more fun than if they are working against me.
Pushing allows players to collaborate on an imaginary space, too. Universalis is built around this idea. On the other hand, Pushing seems to promote a sort of collaboration that is inherently uncooperative. Perhaps the best bits of different people’s visions will survive in an end product through some sort of Darwinian competition, but an assemblage the best bits don’t make for the best possible outcome. Sometimes otherwise good ideas will need to be set aside for the purposes of cooperation and coherency. I’m not saying that a Push-based mechanic won’t be able to handle this, but it seems less optimized for such a thing.
Lastly, and this is what Mo seems to focus upon, Pushing seems specifically designed to make it difficult to tell the story you want to tell. If you have a character who you would like to develop in certain ways, Push-based mechanics seem likely to make that more difficult, not easier.
So what are the Pull-based alternatives?
I’m not sure.
I do know that this gets to some of my dissatisfaction with where I was headed with my thoughts about the Lone Wolf problem. Internal conflict may be essential, but a willingness to cooperate and compromise seems even more so…