And the whole push/pull thing keeps going, most recently in Story-Games' Clear and Concise Actual Play Examples of Push/Pull. Tony is jumping up and down making the arguments that I've always had in a somewhat quieter way, and I've come to the following polyvalent conclusion.

One of the Following is True:

  1. Push and Pull do not exist as universal phenomena. Which sounds harsh, but by that I mean that perhaps it's just something in how Mo (and others) sees the world. Now, I know Mo, and count her a personal friend. Thing is, there is almost nothing that Mo and I have in common outside of gaming. Oh, and we're both white. But otherwise, just about any descriptor that you could apply to me, the opposite applies to Mo. If I were playing Breaking the Ice, I'd play Mo. Which is all to say that Mo sees the world in ways very differently than I do. Maybe it's just that.

    To illustrate, this is how I tell left from right: in my kindergarten classroom, posted above the chalkboard was a right hand and a left hand. To this day, I visualize that chalkboard to tell the difference. (Incidentally, that chalkboard is on the west wall, and I can also usually tell you which way is west by visualizing the wall -- it's kind of bizarre.) In any case, I bet you don't do that. Perhaps Push and Pull is something that Mo uses to understand game interactions like I use the classroom wall to understand left and right.

  2. I alternate Push and Pull so much that I can't make the distinction. Or perhaps the distinction exists and the reason that I don't see the two as different approaches is that I am utilizing both all the time. I drink water, but I don't think of it as hydrogen and oxygen, I think of it as water. Mo has said that every pull invites a push back, and vice-versa, and I've seen a lot of descriptions that appear to be pushing and pulling at the same time (pullsh!). Perhaps I'm just doing both, and doing both in combination and bouncing back and forth so frequently that I don't see them as separate phenomena.

  3. I Push so much that I can't even see Pull. In my usual self-depreciating way, this is my lurking suspicion. Perhaps I'm so much a pushy my-way-or-highway kind of guy that I don't even understand the possibility of another way of approaching things. This would be roughly analogous to trying to talk to my grandparents about Communism -- love them as much as I do, they are so embedded in the American Way that they can't see Communism as anything other than the Evil Empire that's going to come make everybody drink vodka. When my wife Laura played Conquer the Horizon for the first time, she employed a lot of crazy strategies that I never even envisioned (and won the game), so maybe it's that -- I can't even see Pull when it's right in front of me.

Mo has promised an article soon that takes a stab at defining Push and Pull in a more definitive manner. I'm looking forward to it, if only so I can pick one of these three and stick with it!

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I suspect that a lot of

I suspect that a lot of people who are having trouble with push/pull are in category 3.

I have no way of knowing whether you're one of them.

Joshua, I don't know if


I don't know if this will help, but Mo said something to me in a private exchange recently (as in today) that really helped me understand what she means by the push/pull distinction. It's important to note that this is not what I mean by the distinction. And I'd guess that there are a number of other interpretations, and since we're acting as if we're talking about the same thing, we're adding to the confusion.

Mo basically told me that she thinks that Pulling is when you offer something that you value to someone else in order to get them to engage with you. So, maybe you're like "Man, I love this character... Here, you get to decide what happens to this character." While a Push is when you threaten something that someone else values. So, it's more like "Man, you really like that character, and want them to be happy... Aha! If I kidnap your character's girlfriend that will threaten your character's happiness and you'll fight back."

So, as far as I can tell, that's what Mo means when she talks about the distinction. Since I just now came to this understanding, I'm not sure whether this is a valuable distinction to me, but it might help you see where some of the involved parties are coming from.


Push and Pull both revolve

Push and Pull both revolve around one thing- input. Push is directly applying input, while Pull is requesting a type of input. I had tried to convey this idea a few years back when I had initially used the "Ball" analogy in a completely different way in this Forge thread. But, I would say that the commonality between #2 and #3 is that you're not able to make a distinction between the two, and that's pretty common for a lot of folks. Only recently has theory or games even pointed to what happens at the table rather than probabilities or the size of Elf Ears as the focus of what happens in play.

See Chris, I get what you're

See Chris, I get what you're saying, but I don't think that's Mo's Push/Pull. Cause a Push provokes input and a Pull can be pretty fucking direct, as I understand it.

Some notes: Josh: "Mo has

Some notes:

Josh: "Mo has said that every pull invites a push back, and vice-versa". Nope, I don't think I've said that, and if I did it was really early on. Both push or pull want movement, but pull doesn't necessarily want a push or vice versa.

Thomas: Love ya, but quit using the word "threaten", especially if you're going to quote me. It's misleading, and I didn't use it. You said "mess with something the other person values" and I agreed. In my words, there would be more "take access to" or something.

Josh, Chris isn't wrong, though I can't think of how to explain it to make it clear.

Something Ben said recently

Something Ben said recently may be helpful Josh, though it may not.

In Ben's view the best way to think of Push and Pull is as conversational gambits. That is, they are specific strategies or methods taken at specific times. Looking at every interaction in a game in terms of push or pull (something I've been sucked into doing) is probably thus not helpful. Not all interactions are push or pull, much less push and pull. (There may be elements of them in many interactions, but to get the clear cases you should look at the gambits, not the hazzy muddel of every single interactional power dynamic. Which is sort of what I was getting to with the Push Pull sliding into each other graphic -- in the middle (where probably 80% of play happens) Push and Pull are pretty much the same. Its only when you look at them as deliberate strategies, stances, or gambits that the difference appears. If you're only thinking of things in the purple, then there is no wonder that it doesn't seem different, or seems hard. Its when you look to the red and blue that you can see it more clearly.)

So when you're pushing you are doing a gambit to make your vision the one that wins out in this circumstance, as Chris says, applying input. (In functional push play, you do so hoping that people will find your statement something they can get meat and milage out of -- but the response comes after you have established the truth of the statement. So you say "I kill the king" and then hope they all have good ways of using the king's death in the story.) When you're pulling you are doing a gambit to make the other person fit their vision of the world into a certain constraint you've set up, as Chris says requesting a type of input. (Though I'll note that the "request" can be pretty close to a command.)

So, a push is a gambit in which you change the game in order to get others to respond to the change after you have had your say. A pull is a gambit in which you use your say to get others to make the change themselves.

Don't know if that makes any more sense to you Josh, but I thought I'd try.

Also, I'd say that all three of your things could be true. At least two of them could be true quite easily. I've even suggested, more than once, that something like 1 is even quite likely. But I'd say that at this point it isn't just Mo -- a distinct subset of folks find that it also describes their experience. For those folks its a way of talking about something that makes sense to them, and that makes it worth listening to even if it isn't immediatly useful to you, beause it describes something that people are experiencing in game that we aren't properly considering in our design. Which is why I find your approach acceptable ("I don't find use in it, but others do and that's fine") to be acceptable and some others ("I don't find use in it therefor it doesn't exist and you are wrong") to be not so much.

Push and Pull do not exist as

Push and Pull do not exist as universal phenomena.

Here's the thing that drives me crazy about this discussion. There are no universal, objective phenomena. This is especially true in any social science (such as RPG theory), but also in the physical ones. The only thing we have are categories and definitions that we create in our minds. They are not true or wrong; they are only more or less useful for predicting and interacting with the world (it's called Pragmatism).

So the question is not, "do push/pull exist." The question is, "If we take this definition of behavior/phenomena here, how useful is that for analyzing our interactions?" If you a) understand the definition and b) don't find it useful, then that's a point against its usefulness overall. But as long as there are people who understand it and find it useful, it's not wrong. Maybe you're right and not everybody acts in these different ways; that's entirely possible.

Personally, I draw my categories in ways of access to the SIS. Can I input something directly in accordance with the current system, or do I get someone else to put it in? Do I buy my way with Universalis coins or do I offer a reward for players hitting my flags? That might not be the same thing Mo and Brand are talking about, and if so, maybe I can find their distinctions useful in different ways.

The most important point is, as long as we try to argumentatively prove the existence or nonexistence of something in absolute terms, we're just wanking in the way that poisoned the Forge theory forums. What we can do instead is look at actual play examples--and not just three made-up lines of hypothetical Capes play, but real examples of actual people, including their relationships and situatedness and the circumstances of the actual play. And then we can look at patterns, not in one example of play, but many. And if there are patterns for definitions of different phenomena, we can ponder how useful it is to pin down those definitions and apply them. Does it make our gaming better? Does it allow us to design more purposefully?

The way people talk about it now is just not that productive.

Hey, Christian. I thoroughly

Hey, Christian. I thoroughly agree; that's why the line you quote is immediate followed with "perhaps it’s just something in how Mo (and others) sees the world." The bulk of that is "this proposed distinction may not have any value for my purposes or for the purposes of the larger audience that might be exposed to it."

Brand -- hey, that's almost clear! Hitching Push/Pull into IIEE makes sense to me. Push is something where I put something into the fiction that someone else responds to; Pull is when I do something at the table that somebody responds to in the fiction. I can buy that. The line is blurry -- I can add something to the fiction that isn't an action but still elicits a response, such as, say, leaving open a big gaping hole in my character's spoken argument. Mo's Exalted finale is also pretty close to the line: her character shucked her armor and all that, which is definitely something added to the fiction. But she really did not do anything that directly affected or effected the response of the Big Bad. Hm. Almost there.

Josh, Okay, leaving aside


Okay, leaving aside that the "in the fiction" may not be needed (lets just assume that it is now), lets take everything you said in your last paragraph and add the "gambit" clause. Especially as in: "2. A maneuver, stratagem, or ploy, especially one used at an initial stage. 3. A remark intended to open a conversation."

So Mo's adding something to the fiction in taking off her armor wasn't a push or a pull because it wasn't a gambit (at least not on its own). We don't have to analyze it in those terms because I wasn't contesting it -- we all just assumed she had the right to do it. So becasue there was no specific maneuver being used to "open the conversation of conflict" it doesn't have to be Push or Pull. It was just any old action taken.

When she turned to me and said, "I'm done, now do what you want to finish the story" that was a gambit. It was a maneuver, and a "ploy" (though a harmless one), as well as a remark intended to kick off conflict that forced me to give input. It becomes Push or Pull, in the obvious case ways at least, when you are doing it as a deliberate action for an effect, rather than just randomly doing something that you assume you can do.

Ngh. So are Push and Pull


So are Push and Pull completely extra-fictional player-to-player interactions, then? Mo points to her disarming herself as part of the Pull, but that disarming is not part of the Pull itself?

The disarming is a setup for

The disarming is a setup for it. You can't do anything without context. Of course, how you set up context for a pull is very important -- as most of the "strategy" or guidance happens there. Its how you direct the possible range of input from the other character. If'n she hadn't done that and specified she wouldn't defend herself, I could have responded in a lot more ways than the number of ways her setup actually left me with.

So, I suppose you could see everything from her starting her narration to the moment where she actually kneels down as one "unit" with that unit being one Pull. Because in the end the purpouse of the whole thing was to put me in a place where I could give her input, but no matter what input I gave her it would be alright with her. Thus the reason Chris says, "type of input" instead of saying "any old input."

But I can't see how that's a

But I can't see how that's a pull and not a push.


Look at the magic picture. Unfocus your eyes. See the three-dimensional image? I can see it. Can you see it?

Josh, How about the


How about the counter-example. What if Mo had set up everything the same, put down her weapons and stuff, and then said "Now I am using my Charisma+Performance, and I got 15 successes, so he finds me so beautiful that he can't hurt me and instead puts down his sword." That'd be a push. If Mo had set it up so she got to define the result after the moment of question, the moment where it goes from freeplay to conflict then it would be a push.

As it was she set up a gambit where she got me to give the input to what happened after the moment of quesiton. She set it up, I finished it. If she had set up a gambit that had given her the application of input after the moment of question it it would have been a push. She sets it up, she finishes it.

But here's where I always

But here's where I always hang up -- she doesn't set it up and finish it. All she does is throw something out there, whether it's making her character vulnerable or having her character take proactive action, and you (here the GM, otherwise another player) react to it, whether it's by taking advantage of that vulnerability or responding to that proactive action. I mean, this is Exalted -- I'm sure BigAssMoFo had some Charms he could use to respond to a seduction attempt; if she uses Charms, there's even more possibilities. If she hit a knife on her person, ditto. Even if she "succeeds" she might narrate a bit of her success (although puissantly it's often the GM that narrates character success), but what she says and what she enters into the fiction is based on what you had done, or is predicated on you doing something shortly thereafter. So too, if she presents herself as a vulnerable target, he's got a different set of options. If she flees from the room, et cetera. No matter what she does she constrains your options to respond to it -- her initial actions contextualize your later actions.

All we ever do in roleplaying is throw stuff out there so that other people can react to it. Sometimes We always do this with an agenda behind it, and you and I both know that manipulating the other players at the table or over the internet to react in a certain way is a relatively simple thing to do. I don't see any division that makes one instance a "push" and another instance a "pull."

Josh, Actually, it is


Actually, it is very possible to "set it up and finish it" in the "this scene or this moment" context, and that is the context we are talking about. Especially, and you must remeber this, this was the last scene in the game. There is no "next scene" or "later." What we say right now is the end. So what we're talking about is if Mo gets to say how her own character ends, or if she gives it to me to say how her character ends.

We are also not talking about "blow by blow." There is no "and then you swing, and then he swings, and then you dodge, and then he dodges." We are talking about the total interaction as a unit -- a gambit, one extended sequence designed to do something. (Especially at this point as we were playing Exalted with pretty much single opposed roll conflict resolution -- more like Nine Worlds or Primetime Adventures than the traditional task resolution of Exalted. So if Mo had engaged in a push, I would have called for a contest, and if she had won she would actually have had narration rights and could narrate the end however she wanted.)

So with that in mind, yes of course everything is contextualized by the things that enter the fiction. But there is a difference in the way things enter the fiction between, "I have this right, now react to this thing that I have just forced into the fiction" and "I am doing something to get you to put something into the fiction to complete the sequence I have just started."

As it was there was no question about if he could hit her or not, or if she could use a charm, or if he could resist her seduction. Mo did not say, "I have set this thing up, I am rolling to gain narration rights, and I will say how it ends if I win." She said, "I have set this thing up, now tell me how it ends."

It's that level -- that Mo gave up narrative control and passed it over to me -- that is the key thing you seem to be missing. I didn't take it from her with charms, she set it up, and then said "no, I don't need to fight over it. Anything you do at this point is all good."

Though I have a feeling this won't help. Maybe if you could see a game design based on it? Such as... oh.. .Crime and Punishment? Look at that text and how that game plays and think, how does the first half support pull, how does the second half support push. Maybe that will give you some insight.

Or maybe not. Maybe because of the way you approach the sequence of events that go into making up a game, which is different than the way Mo does, the difference just really isn't useful to you.

Josh, I think its also


I think its also worth noting that a lot of "one scene/one conflict/one roll" type resolution methods (PTA, Nine Worlds) can get pretty short circuted by lots of pull. Its like if you listen to the Nine Worlds Skype game first session (seriously worth it if you haven't) -- what would have happened if when Matt said, "They come and arrest you and take you to jail" Fred had said, "Sure, and then can they torture me?" And Matt had said, "Sure, and then can they give you a scar?" and Fred had said, "Sure!" They haven't yet gotten to the conflict, because they've succesfully pulled through it rather than coming to a logger heads where one has to push through to get their way over the other.

Otoh, things that mix task and conflict resolution (Dogs, FLFS, Agora) seem to work much better for keeping the ability to pull and still use the resolution methods. Something like the bribery systems of Galactic or Christian's court game make pulling the prime feature of the game (you can never say, "I have the right to tell you to do this" you can only say, "Can I bribe you to do this?"). Crime and Punishment is all pull first half, followed by lots of push second half.

“I have this right, now

“I have this right, now react to this thing that I have just forced into the fiction”
“I am doing something to get you to put something into the fiction to complete the sequence I have just started.”

Each of these has the initiating player do something which they presumably have a right to do, and then both of them follow up with a responding action.

When I get to this point, I usually think that I'm overthinking it, and the push/pull distinction is like the difference between a lob and a toss.

I'll reread C&P tonight, see if it makes things clearer.

Josh, If not, call me. Or


If not, call me. Or email me and I'll call you.

Cause the net sucks for explaining this. Like, a lot.

[...] Again, things go quiet

[...] Again, things go quiet for a while, and I’m prepping for my big article on the subject, and someone decides to steal my thunder. Judd goes and posts a thread on the subject which I (to my shame) promptly threadjack for my own nefarious purposes. Tony Lower-Basch has a thread in response, and an entire series of blog posts are spawned: Chris Chinn, Joshua BishopRoby, and “Pease” Jess (Jess, sorry for not remembering your name, I know it’s rude…) all chime in. [...]

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