Sunday, October 14, 2018

12th Class: Meaning-Making

In each of the three theories discussed so far in this class, including other theories we might have mentioned, the interpretation in each case relates to the way participants learn to manage role-playing games.  RPGs are interpreted as story-driven because they draw on the story telling process that has always been there in our communications with each other ~ but role-playing seems to enhance that importance.  RPG players are interpreted as heroes because positive games result when we act morally and with respect towards others ~ which has always been true, but role-playing seems to make this more evident than usual.  And RPGs are interpreted as goal-driven because we have always strived towards goals, largely by describing our personal narratives in purposeful ways rather than as unpleasant random statements.

Role-playing games simply reflects normal human behaviours.  We are story-tellers, whenever we communicate or express what matters to us.  We may not always pursue an heroic course but we know perfectly well what's expected; and when in the company of others we present ourselves as the sort of people who would do what's expected.  And we are goal-oriented; in many ways, our biology makes us so.  We are not interpreting the game with these ideas.  We are interpreting the way we play the game.  We are holding up a mirror and thinking it is something else.

We should not interpret this as a negative approach.  It is, essentially, what psychologists call "meaning-making," a process that we develop at the youngest age, which we carry with us continuously, as we seek to make sense of situations, relationships or ideas we don't fully grasp.  We look for frameworks that will help us understand these things; and like our Novice learning an RPG, we start with conventions as children, then move onto axioms we create ourselves and finally, if we are so motivated, we begin to see how other people view the world and establish precepts that enable us to make decisions from multiple possible options.  This is how we as humans become proficient as humans.

Let us step back and consider an early issue that arises as we first become acquainted with role-playing: our relationship to the rules of the game.  Initially, due to the number of rules involved and our lack of experience, we will view the rules with a "surface" interpretation, much like studying for exams that demand quick answers.

We focus on the words, accept each rule as written, with some assumption that it will become clear later.  We view the individual rules as separate bits of data, having little to do with one another.  We give considerable credence to the rule source; we interpret the rules as the meaning, bestowing innate, inviolable knowledge to the writer of the rules, presuming that the writer cannot possibly have failed to make the meaning clear when wrestling with the language.

This surface learning begins to break down when others in our association begin to interpret the rules differently than ourselves; and at once we set up standards by which the rules ought to be interpreted, which in turn become conventions for new players.  We are making meaning out of the rules in a way that satisfies the immediate needs of the game, but fails to engage with deeper issues and concepts that underlie the rules ~ the very purposes that the rules were originally written to serve.  We need to ask ourselves, were the rules written to establish the rules themselves, or were the rules written to enable the full dimensions of the game to be played?

With experience and awareness of how the game's rules apply in a wide variety of situations, we begin to understand that the meaning of the text is deeper than the words used to describe it.  We recognize that learning the game is a conscious agent of understanding the rules in an holistic sense ~ how the object of the game depends on a wide view, where the individual rules are not isolated but in fact relate to each other in multitudinous ways.  We seek to compare our interpretations with the semantic message-making of the rules as written and integrate both into our game play (possibly making new interpretations or rewriting the rules), creating axioms.  And finally, we test our interpretations on players during games and either reinforce our axioms or revise them.

For most people, this is done entirely without conscious awareness of the process. We only discuss the process here in order to understand it, and through understanding make ourselves more aware of what we ourselves are doing, and what others are doing when they communicate with us.

The rules of the game are merely one small facet of the meanings we create for ourselves while comparing what we're told, or what we read, with our own deep investigation into the fundamental material used to communicate RPGs.  Deep learning leads to meaning-making that produces stronger practices and more relevant advances in game play (it does with all other human activity as well).  Deep learning encourages closer examination of the sources, which leads to strategies for an even deeper and more holistic approach to meaning that we make out of the game.

With the last three classes, I have been emphasizing that what we believe about the game, as expressed in various theories, is subjective and is therefore not knowledge, which requires objective proof.  At this point we need to ask the question, is meaning-making knowledge?

No.  It is not.  Meaning-making is also subjective and we should not mistake our interpretations of the materials as knowledge-making.  It would be fully possible to concoct meanings from a given source material with a highly obscure or highly prejudiced sensibility, ending with a viewpoint or values that were extreme or even perverse.  In our experiences with the internet, we have all seen many such examples ... we need not list them.

What makes meaning meaningful is that it has the potential to be shared.  Our perceived reality must be communicable to others, to give it any legitimacy.  The reason why we draw on studies and resources for this class comes from our recognition that others have produced ideas and theories that sought to be recognizable to others in the same field, who were examining the same materials and arriving at approximately the same axioms to explain the various facets behind human behaviour or comprehension.  When we make meanings that approach a positive self-concept, others respond to the values of that concept and re-evaluate their own approaches along a continuum between interpersonal behaviour and intergroup behaviour.  This concept defines what we think of as social identity theory.

Without the possibility of knowledge making, given that objective proof of our interpretations has escapes human abilities for the present, meaning-making along that continuum is the best we have.  It is not enough for us to make meanings for ourselves.  We are prescribed to create meanings that others will find valuable; and to express those meanings in a manner that will enable others to build on our interpretations in a positive manner that can then be carried forward by other persons and later generations.  In this sense we move the process towards knowledge, even if knowledge itself is outside our abilities.

With our next classes, we'll be investigating meaning-making strategies for game play that semantic, interpretive and holistic in nature, before moving onto lectures where we'll be discussing a base understanding of key structures and functional design of role-playing games.

I'll just remind the class that the mid-term exam in coming up with our 16th class ... and that studying early should be something you'll consider doing.  We'll talk about the particulars of the exam soon.

A little early for Christmas, but the right sentiment nonetheless

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