Monday, April 7, 2008

The Gift

I feel pretty good about the "game of trust" model, a lot better than I've felt about any of its predecessors. I have some trusted advisers who've promised me their responses, so I won't say I've settled on it entirely until I've heard what they have to say about the idea, but I have a strong suspicion that something like that will make it through to the end of the game.

Right now, though, the part that bothers me most of all lies with the betting. The mechanic needs some way for relationships to affect it, of course, and to work as a game, it needs to introduce some separation between the character and the player playing the character, but all the same, the notion of forcing a character to trust seems ... wrong.

While turning this over in my head, I realized that the mechanic worked, but the verbal understanding of the mechanic missed the mark. What I had here didn't involve betting to force trust—I had competitive gift exchange.

Marcel Mauss' classic The Gift needs a lot of updating in a lot of ways, but the general idea remains: we give gifts to gain one another's trust. Anthropologists describe the hunter-gatherer economy as reciprocal, but this viewpoint comes from a domesticated viewpoint, where we have dislodged economic activity, often at great effort, from its underlying social foundations. A key point of wild—and by extension, feral—human society points us to the social fabric (and, I would say, the ecological, as perhaps an even better term, in that it extends the social beyond the merely human) as the ultimate basis of everything else that goes on in life. Reciprocity rules their "economy" becomes their economy exists only inside their social network, and gift-giving earns trust.

So, when you bet three beads, you move three beads from your bowl directly into the Other's bowl. You make a gift of three beads. You'll have to describe what kind of gift you've given; since the beads represent "power," or the capacity for change and movement, the gift can take any number of forms. You could offer a gift of praise, a story, or simply attention. The Other can then either accept your gift, and turn over to trust, or he can return your gift. If he simply returns it, the exchange ends there, meaning he did not accept your gift. If he gives you back more beads than you gave him—if he returns four beads, instead of three—then he has made a counter-gift. Now you must either return four beads to him, make an even larger counter-gift, or accept the gift and choose to trust.

We will need to use the beads for other parts of the game to make this interesting, of course (right now, I look at the beads as "potential energy," that a character can use more fluidly, or store more permanently by investing it in a relationship, which may give the player enough reason to want more beads right there).


WorldWithoutToil said...

another way to say this would be that the person who bids the most takes the contest, but the loser gets the beads as a consolation prize. That's not the intent, I realize, but I'm just noting that it's real easy to put this in a winner/loser and prize context as well as a gift exhange.

I'm not thrilled with this concept, because it leads to a revitalization via failure that I just don't buy. Maybe if you looked at it as competitive gift-giving to a third party, such as the land, I could get more into it.

One place I definately see the gift-giving for trust being used is in relationships. Actually, if we must give trust a mechanic, how can we use relationship as a gauge of trust? For instance, what if, in a situation where you trusted and the other didn't, you could burn a relationship point to change their move to trust? In this way you could use gift giving to bank up trust, and draw on it during difficult times.

Jason Godesky said...

Obviously, one can understand hunter-gatherer life in a purely mechanistic, dualistic way; otherwise, where would we find the majority of modern anthropology? By the same token, you can understand modern life in an animistic way. That you can turn things around and see the system as a straight winner/loser, domination narrative reinforces how you can have viewpoints as varied as those that animists have of themselves, compared to, say, the decidedly bleak, winner/loser dynamic Marcel Mauss wrote of in The Gift, and the economic tone of primitive man struggling to dominate nature as best he can with his rudimentary tools one generally finds in the anthropological literature.

Trusting does not always mean failure, though. It means vulnerability. The Other will always want you to trust, but whether he wants you to trust so that you can have a mutual encounter, or so he can take advantage of your vulnerability, has to do not just with whether or not you trust, but also whether or not he trusted. Success or failure does not come from just your choice, but from the interaction of both choices. So gift exchange does not revitalize via failure; rather, it revitalizes in exchange for openness, which may lead to either success or failure, depending on what I do next.

I do like the idea of tying the relationships in with the choice more tightly, but how? Obviously, with more beads in a relationship, the Other should tend more towards trust. Right now, you can burn relationship beads to make a greater gift, but we could use something more direct. I just have no idea how that would work.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I was thinking about this, and I really like the idea of the competitive giving mechanic. With each gift you are asking the other to believe that everything will work out alright, that's why you don't need to give a neutral third party, becuase there is no arbiter, no one who decides except those who are involved. At least that's what I see.

However, to incorporate relationships in a more direct manner, what if your relationship was always your first bid, and was free, meaning that the other person has to beat the bid even though they will get nothing. However, at the end of a conflict, if you lose, you lose one relationship point, but if you win you get one. To add to your bid, you have to draw on other relationships - thus your total strength is limited only by the number and strength of relationships.

That is very rough, but I think that the basic idea could work.