Friday, 25 September 2009

the push and pull paradox

I've been thinking on player-referee dynamics, how some games or stories engage an audience more than others and ways of handling different levels of involvement.  The resulting headache forced me to take a break - which led to my mind being blown by the concept of Crow (a game of Ted Hughes style slam poetry?!) and a discussion on push-pull communication and it got me thinking...

Here comes the terminology.

Push is where you tell an audience information.  This may be in the form of exposition, narrative or handouts to provide information to interpret in real-time. It must have intrinsic value to induce involvement and be paced to prevent information overload or boredom.  The audience can respond passively or actively, according to their perceived circle of influence or whim.  This is followed by more information - act and react.

Pull is where you elicit a response from your audience and then act on it.  An initial source of information is provided (so push elements exists in every pull) and offers (by soliciting input) a negotiation on the authority of that information. The audience must respond and this negotiation ends up creating collaborative scenes where participants are involved.  A passive response implies no opinion is needed or will matter to the audience.

A level of rapport or trust with any audience is implied.  Building trust is based on a three-step process of tell me, show me, involve me.  By words and actions, authority is built or diminished.  Key to building trust is a healthy dose of acceptance. Where authority and acceptance conflict, outcomes may be positive (willing suspension of disbelief) or negative experiences (You're dead! No I'm not!) for the audience. 

Rhythm in communication is useful to build expectation, to maintain focus and prevent boredom. The salient question here is are the audience's needs being met?  Is the horror story actually managing scary?  Where are the pay-offs in this moment - are they visceral? vicarious? voyeuristic?  A mixture of anticipation and frustration can build tension and lead to those pay-off moments, making the communication rewarding.

Note individual audience members may have different levels of trust and expectation of rhythm, knowing what is needed and then delivering it may be a process that needs investigation.  The teacher's mantra of tell me, show me, involve me is mirrored in ARG and game design by it's mantra of exposition, interaction, challenge. This too requires a combination of push and pull communication.

Enough theory.  Here's a framework (borrowed from the US Armed Forces) for you to use.
Plan what you're trying to get across.  What payoffs and value are there?  Fix the problems. When is it done?
Decide on your approach.  Push or pull?  What are your audience's needs?  What are your strengths?
Execute with confidence.  Bring in your strengths and smooth out bumps.  Meet needs and make pay-offs.
Assess if it worked.  Check if clarification is needed or if further input is desirable.  Know when it's done.

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