March 1st will mark my 1 year anniversary since I joined the Ongoing Worlds Community. I have since spent hundreds of hours reading, writing, and contemplating posts, comments, and emails. I'm not going to claim that I've acquired any deep insight into the nature of the community, but I've seen some patterns, and like many people, I'm struggling to make sense of them.
So, with that said, the purpose of this post is to illustrate an idea that has been floating around in my mind. I'm calling this idea "Nim's PbP Energy Flow Hypothesis" because I think that giving it a sciency name adds validity to it. I'm also going to throw an equation in here because I turned 24 recently and I'm feeling nostalgic. It turns out my classmates were right when they complained that they would never use algebra after they graduated.
If I communicate this idea poorly and anyone cares enough about it to ask for clarification, I'll be happy to improve it as best I can. Also, this being a "hypothesis" and all, I'm happy to adjust the idea to more accurately describe the phenomenon that my PbP Energy Flow Hypothesis is attempting to explain.
I think we can agree that writing and putting up a post requires time and effort. Sometimes it is easy to make the time and put forth the effort to create a post, while other times it can be a real chore. While non-game related factors certainly influence how easy it is to write, I believe that the status of the game you want to write in also greatly influences how easy it is to put out a post as well. I think this becomes especially obvious when you have multiple open prompts in a game or multiple games, as it often feels easier to write on one prompt over another. The purpose of this hypothesis is to evaluate what in-game factors determine the emotional ease with which a writer can produce a post.
The basic premise of the idea is that there is an energy cycle in Play by Post Role Playing Games, and the amount of energy present in this cycle determines the amount of activity (quantity of posts, character creation, game discussion, etc.) in the PbP RPGs. In this illustration, "energy" is defined as the passion and desire of the player(s) to contribute to a PbP RPG.
So how does this energy cycle affect me?
I believe that when we read posts, especially new ones for the first time, we feed off of this energy, and that energy helps us create a followup post. Then when we write a post, someone will read our post and use the energy we put into our post to write their followup post, and then someone else will use the energy from that post to write another post, and so on and so forth.
Okay, that seems simple enough. So what's the point of describing that energy flow, and can I do anything to influence it?
Well yes, I believe every member can significantly influence this energy flow, and the point of describing the energy flow is to create a foundation upon which we can explain what influences said energy flow.
Why should I care about this energy flow?
As I stated earlier, this energy defines, or at least greatly effects, how much the members of a PbP RPG participate in said game. So if you care about a game that you are a part of and want other people to followup on your posts, then you probably want to contribute as much energy to the energy cycle as you can.
Umm, cool, so you're saying that I have the ability to contribute to this mystical "Energy Flow" or "Energy Cycle" by writing stuff, and apparently contributing energy to this flow is in my best interest. Anything else I should know?
So here is the thing: I don't believe that the energy you put into creating a post, character, etcetera, necessarily equals the amount of energy that other players gain from reading your post/character profile or whatever. This where the equation I hinted at earlier comes in...
Which can also be written as:
Delta E = (I × Q × R) ÷ T
Delta E is the instantaneous change in energy experienced by someone who reads and comprehends your post.
I is the emotional investment the reader has in the affected character or characters. This value will always be greater than or equal to zero, with higher values reflecting more emotional investment in the character. If the writer doesn't care about any of the affected characters, then this value would be zero. Note that if you as a player don't care about any of your characters in a game, you may want to either create a new character or leave the game, because you will struggle to gain any energy from a game otherwise.
Q is the perceived quality of the post being read. This can be any value, with higher values being well recieved, lower values being regarded as "meh" and negative values being considered "bad". The ramifications of this will be discussed later. Note that higher quality posts usually take more energy to create, but just because you put a lot of energy into creating a post does not mean that it will be recieved well.
R is the perceived relevance of the post to the reader's character or characters. This value will always be greater than or equal to zero, with higher values being more relevant to the character and lower values being less relevant. The value ends up being zero if the reader doesn't care about the post due to it having little to no bearing to their characters.
T is the time it takes for the post to be posted with regards to how long the person reading the post has been waiting for it to be posted. This is, again, a perception and is not necessarily related to the actual passage of time. For less patient people, having to wait ten hours for a post may affect them more than it would for a more patient person. This value will always be greater than but not equal to zero.
What on earth...
I haven't come up with any units that could be used for any of these values, so actually quantifying anything is pretty much impossible. However, despite that, there are still quite a few things that can be taken away from this equation, such as:
Zeros - if any of the values on the right side of the equation equal zero, there will be no energy change that results from the post being read.
Negative Values - The only variable that can have a negative value on the right side of the equation is Q, so if Q is negative, then the reader will lose energy. Negative Q posts are usually caused by player vs player conflict, often in the form of "drama" (not to be confused with dramatic writing, the "drama" I'm referring to involves players making a scene). If you are one of those lucky people who has not witnessed the destructive capabilities of "drama", you can go to the linked post, read the next twenty posts, and see for yourself what "bad" posts can do to a game. I'm not proud of my handling of this situation.
The Power of Time - Time, being the only variable in the divisor, will dampen the energy effects of the other variables the higher the value gets. This means that even if a writer puts a ton of energy into creating a post, the post probably won't share much of that energy if it took the writer a long time to put up their post.
Umm, okay, so what can I do with all that?
With most of these variables involving the way a fellow player perceives something you wrote, you don't have any direct control over how much energy is shared from your post. However, there are some easy and some not-so-easy things you can do to attempt to maximize the amount of energy you are adding to the game.
Get your posts out in a timely manner. I get that we all have things going on in real life that probably should be prioritized over this hobby, but if you wait a long time before getting out each of your posts, the actual energizing potential of your writing will be limited.
Put some effort into your posts. Most decent posts that really affect much of anything require some amount of thought, effort, and a time commitment. Be willing to make some time to sit, write, and proofread. Most people prefer reading things that are clean of typos and grammatical mistakes.
Try to understand your fellow players. If you are writing something that affects another player's character, try not to write something that will derail their plans for their character in a bad way. This probably requires communication between you and that player. If you know what that player wants for their characters, it will be easier to write posts that move a narrative in a direction that they will like.
If you are a moderator, keeping the amount of energy in your game high is probably ideal, and fortunately for you, there are some more things that you can do to try to keep up the energy if you are willing to try them, such as...
Help your players develop their characters. This can actually be done by anyone, but it is usually easier for moderators to do this as they typically have more control over the story. The idea is to give players prompts that help them expand their characters. Most characters created on this site tend to be rather flat at first, and unfortunately, many of them remain that way. It is hard to remain emotionally invested in a flat character, so if the player doesn't seem to be taking the initiative to flesh out his/her character, try to help them out. Maybe have them bump into an old friend, or bring up a situation that they are uniquely qualified to handle. Understanding the writer helps here, and maybe a simple conversation about fleshing out a character can accomplish what a plot hook cannot.
Keep the game moving. People have things come up in real life, or they just lose interest in the game, and they stop posting. Quite frustratingly, they will often fail to communicate their absences, which tends to result in someone getting prompt-locked for an extended period of time. As a moderator, you want to give players an opportunity to post when they want to write something, so try creating policies that allow people to borrow immobile characters or use immobile characters yourself to free up locked characters.
Along this line of thought, if you, the moderator, forsee yourself becoming inactive for a decently long time, make plans for someone to cover your responsibilities in your absence. If you fail to do this, the game may die while you are away.
Address concerns and hurt feelings before they blow up. "Drama" can do catastrophic damage to the energy flow of a game. Do whatever you can to prevent it. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, so when a scene does happen, do your best to contain the situation as soon as possible, address the concerns, and find a way to move forward. This requires assertive and decisive action.
Hmm, that is interesting. I might have to try some of that stuff.
Go for it. There are probably other things that can be done to affect these variables as well that I have not thought of. If you know something I don't I'd be happy to put your suggestion on the list.
So is that all?
Not quite, but we are almost done, I promise. There are two more points I want to mention. Firstly, the energy gained from a post is not split between the readers, rather, each reader who reads a post gains energy based on the above variables. This means that the more people who read a post, the more the energy flow in a game is affected by the post, which in turn means that as more people join a game, it becomes easier to contribute substantial amounts of energy to the system. So basically, the more members there are in a game, the greater the energy potential in said game can be. There is also a higher likelyhood of conflicts of interest between players the more players there are, so some players may be more trouble than they are worth.
Secondly, there are other things that affect this energy cycle than just the above mentioned variable because the above equation only accounts for the energy that results from activity. Energy leaves the cycle during periods of inactivity. When someone is not thinking about their character and his/her story, they are thinking about other things in their life. When a player does not get to move their character's story forward, their interest in their character starts to fade, whereas when they have the opportunity to move their character's story forward, they think a lot about their character. So basically what I'm saying is: Time causes all things to fade, including interest in your game, unless you can enable and encourage people to invest in their character's stories.
Now you're done, right?
Pretty much. I hope I'm making sense here, because I really believe that illustrations like this hypothesis can help us start to understand many of the observations we are discussing about the dynamics of Ongoing Worlds and PbP RPGs. Thank you for reading this, and if you have any thoughts related to this hypothesis, I'd love to see them!