11 Jan 2009

Why Scope and Stakes cloud Conflict Resolution

My reason for posting these ideas on Conflict Resolution is that many definitions of the term seem to focus on the scope and or stakes of the conflict, see for instance Vincent Baker:
In conflict resolution, what's at stake is why you're doing the task. "I crack the safe!" "Why?" "Hopefully to get the dirt on the supervillain!" What's at stake is: do you get the dirt on the supervillain?

or this Glossary:
A Forge term for a resolution mechanic which depends on the abstract higher-level conflict, rather than on the component tasks within that conflict.

as opposed to the The Forge Glossary (which still clouds the issue by contrasting 'components'):
A Technique in which the mechanisms of play focus on conflicts of interest, rather than on the component tasks within that conflict.

or the far more succinct definition by Tim Kleinert:
Conflict Resolution is when the dice decide whether a character/player's interest is realized, most often in contrast with another character/player's opposing interest.

In my opinion the key is in assigning opposing interests. Where confusion has arisen is in ideas of scope and stakes, seeing conflict resolution as deciding on the outcome of the overall conflict as opposed to the individual tasks in the conflict, and using the question 'why' to decide on the scope and stakes, in the process de-emphasising the clash of interests.

Where this becomes most apparent is in games like our two earlier examples Dogs in the Vineyard and HeroQuest. Both attempt to define the contest using conflict resolution and then allow the contest to be broken down into individual actions.

I would argue, just because these games focus on the individual actions, this does not mean that they move towards task resolution. The conflicts are still defined in a context of conflicting interests, and outcomes of individual rolls are interpreted within the overall conflict.

Both of these games can confuse players more used to task resolution, because component actions can easily be misinterpreted as tasks. If you fall into this trap in HeroQuest, you find yourself playing a game of point scoring which feels like a sub-game removed from the conflict at hand, and in Dogs, you end up playing a competitive dice game which becomes a battle over the stakes, instead of a conflict over the importance of the stakes to the characters or players.

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