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May 10, 2006

Push and Pull Example

Posted by peaseblossom on May 10, 2006 at 02:04 PM

Oh yes, apparently I've made it to the big time, and no longer have to post via my husband.  Okay, not that I ever really did; Bryant's offered me a place before and I just chose not to take him up on it until now. 

Anyway, I won't always just be biting off other people's ideas (I hope!) but, in this case, a few people over on my livejournal found this helpful, so I thought I'd repost it here for a wider audience:

I've tried here to come up with a really pared-down example of Push and Pull.  It's not from a game, because I think that Actual Play examples are confusing because they have so many layers of context.

How are you?


I'm fine.  How are you?
This answer doesn't move the conversation in any particular direction.

Pull: I'm fine, except I'm a bit tired.  How are you?
This answer offers the mystery of the speaker's tiredness, and the option for her conversational partner to respond to that mystery, or to continue with the 'how are you' thread of the conversation.

Push: I'm fine, except I'm a bit tired, because I've been playing in a MUSH that kept me up late last night.  Have you ever tried MUSH-ing?
This answer negates the 'how are you' thread of the conversation and moves it to a topic of the speaker's choosing.

I'm not sure if it's easy or hard to extrapolate this example to how we present narrative in a game (for me it's easy, but I invented the example), but I think you can already see how the difference in styles is provoking.  I can see a situation where you could get frustrated at the Pull person for being passive-agressive, or at the Push person for being domineering, although both are theoretically valid forms of communicating; and, though we may favor one or the other, we all will use different styles depending on the context of the conversation.



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The parallels are strong between the conversational gambits you list, and the gaming gambits that are push and pull.

In your Pull example, it's only a pull if the speaker intends to try to get the other person to ask about the tiredness.

At least, to me.

Posted by: Vaxalon at May 10, 2006 2:40:28 PM

Clear and seems sensible to me, except: where you say "negates", I see "resolves." "Negates" would be "Never mind that, have you tried AnyMUSH? It rocks so hard I was up all night last night."

Posted by: Mark Woodhouse at May 10, 2006 5:33:59 PM

Analogies are hard to make. See, in a conversation like that, you're not trying to agree on something, whereas in play, push/pull is about how you put things into the fiction.

On Deep in the Game, a href="http://bankuei.blogspot.com/2006/05/push-and-pull-lets-nail-this-down.html">Chris and Mo are talking definitions for Push/Pull; here's an excerpt:

"Push is an assertion that changes the imaginary space without requiring input from anyone else ... Pull is a solicitation for input from other players."

I believe these to be useful definitions. So these would be examples:

"My turn to attack. I attack you; roll's a 20. I hit and inflict damage on you." -- direct Push
"You are ambushed! (says the GM)" -- direct Push
"I'll give you fanmail if you have your character attack mine now." -- direct Pull
"My fighter leaves his most valuable magic ring out at the campsite and falls asleep while your thief stays awake." -- indirect Pull

So in relation to your example, an indirect pull could be, "My character is awfully tired that day," in which case the circumstances might indicate what you're pulling for (maybe someone was waiting to challenge them to a duel, and this indicates an opportunity). You could say, "Today would be a good day to challenge my character to a duel," which is more direct. Or you could say, "If you challenge my character to a duel today, I'll give you x," which is a direct pull with associated reward. Notice that you cannot push "Your character challenges mine to a duel" because the other person's character is not within your authority.

The question of whether the pull has traction with the other player and/or threatens or involves something they care about is not one of whether it's a push or pull, but of what quality it is and how well it'll work.

And Fred's right, the intent matters, obviously. Because both of these are active techniques regarding how to make something happen in the fiction of the game.

Now, the whole discussion about this issue has become complex because people are simultaneously talking about: what push/pull is, what a direct/strong and indirect/weak push/pull is, whether rewards are involved, whether what you're introducing into the fiction threatens or otherwise touches the other players, whether a specific reaction is aimed for, what the outcome is, how players feel about it, etc. All of these sub-issues get mixed up with the definitions, and that's confusing everyone involved.

- Christian

Posted by: xenopulse at May 10, 2006 5:52:40 PM

Dang, link didn't work out. Here it is again.

Posted by: xenopulse at May 10, 2006 5:53:48 PM

Mark, yes. Actually, I think it could be either, depending on the context of the conversation and the nonverbal communication going on, but resolves is as good a word and perhaps less pejorative (although, I should be clear that I didn't mean negates pejoratively).

Christian, I see a conversation as not just a thing we're talking about, but also a constant commentary on what things we're going to talk about. In that context (there's way too much con/com alliteration going on in this post, by the way), we are trying to agree on what we're going to talk about, while simultaneously talking about things.

And I do think intent matters, but it matters in both how it's meant by the person speaking, and how it's interpreted by the listener.

As I said, this example is meant to be very basic, with no confusing extra context or concurrent other stuff going on.

Posted by: peaseblossom at May 10, 2006 6:42:56 PM

I concur. :)

Posted by: xenopulse at May 10, 2006 6:57:16 PM

Peasey: Well posted!

Christian: Well put!

Posted by: Mo at May 10, 2006 7:11:59 PM

I like Christian and Pease. I want to subscribe to their newsletters.

Posted by: Brand Robins at May 10, 2006 7:13:33 PM

Hey Christian,

I'm hoping for Mo and I to get a chance to tackle explicit vs. implicit Push & Pull after the definition is cleaned up, but your example of direct/indirect is pretty much what I'm thinking of.

And yeah, the sub-issues are clouding things, which is why I figured it's a good idea to break it down one factor at a time. I hope our dialogue there is useful for everyone.

Posted by: Chris at May 10, 2006 10:55:45 PM

Yep, useful as usual. That's a good, focused way of going about discussing these things. Thanks Chris!

And a newsletter, hmm... now there's an idea :)

Posted by: xenopulse at May 10, 2006 11:10:28 PM

Thank Mo. I'm simply a facilitator in the matter. (or perhaps a hype man...)

Posted by: Chris at May 11, 2006 2:25:49 AM

I keep being very close to getting this, and then shifting my head slightly and the whole thing disappears. To take Christians example of an indirect pull

"My fighter leaves his most valuable magic ring out at the campsite and falls asleep while your thief stays awake." (from the Deep in The Game discussion, right?)

I cannot see how this is purely "a solicitation for input from other players".

If I'm playing with a strong Narr agenda, stealing that ring affects my character, and my notion of her. But so does not stealing that ring. Similarly, all the duel examples being given, are direct challenges in terms of Step on Up - and to refuse to take it says something just as sure as not taking it. I am being forced to respond, just as surely as I am forced to respond if you say "I challenge you to a duel" or have your thief steal my ring in the night. (Admittedly, this gets less clear if you are playing to explore/celebrate the fiction, though I suppose a decision not to explore the implications of inter-party thieving sends a message about your preferences).

It's striking me that maybe I'm missing something: I'm describing things at the player level when they're supposed to operate at the character level?

Posted by: Alex Fradera at May 11, 2006 7:57:53 AM

If I'm playing with a strong Narr agenda, stealing that ring affects my character, and my notion of her. But so does not stealing that ring...I am being forced to respond, just as surely as I am forced to respond if you say "I challenge you to a duel" or have your thief steal my ring in the night.

If I understand correctly, the important thing is that you get to decide how you respond. In Push, one person says, "Here, this is what happens." In Pull, the person says, "Here, this is a situation, now you tell me what you do in it." So you look at the situation and decide whether what you want to say about your character is better served by stealing the ring or not stealing it, and then do that without any input from the instigating player. Presumedly if he had cared whether you stole it or not he'd have made it Push: "I leave my ring out. Roll against your Greed to see if you steal it, and if you fail you do." (Or conversely, "I leave my ring out, and roll my Pious Oratory to see if I've finally gotten through to you on how stealing is wrong. If I suceed, you don't steal it.")

The difference (again, IIUC) isn't in whether the action requires a response; it's in how much the initiating player dictates the response.

Is this reasonably correct, people who understand this better than I do?

It's striking me that maybe I'm missing something: I'm describing things at the player level when they're supposed to operate at the character level?

I don't think so.

Posted by: Carrie at May 11, 2006 8:43:27 AM

Push and Pull definitely operate at the player level.

Situation: The PC's are travelling from one city to another. They aren't particularly pious, nor are they seeking anything divine.

GM (pulling): "You're passing through some of the outer districts of the realm of Jandwee. It's an overcast day, dark and chilly with a light drizzle. You top a small rise, and up ahead, you see that a shaft of sunlight has pierced the clouds, and is illuminating a small farmhouse about a half mile off the main road, on a nearby hillside. As you watch, the clouds shift, and the shaft disappears."

Player (considering stepping into the pull): "Is it a sign from God? What does my character know?"

GM (wrapping another loop of rope into the pull): "If it's a sign from God, it's a subtle one; certainly, there are no choruses of angels, and now that the sunbeam is gone, the farmhouse looks perfectly ordinary. It would be easy to just dismiss as a random sunbeam, but still..."

Posted by: Vaxalon at May 11, 2006 9:58:09 AM

Good stuff. Welcome in, Peaseblossom.
Push and Pull also operate at the PC level, I'm pretty sure. The PCs are people too.

Posted by: Arref at May 11, 2006 11:23:29 AM

Push and Pull also operate at the PC level, I'm pretty sure. The PCs are people too.

That seems right, but is it relevant to games? I mean, as Peaseblossom's example shows you can have Push and Pull in everyday conversation; since the PCs are people, they have conversations in which they use these gambits. But when talking about using Push and Pull to shape the narrative, you're automatically talking about something that happens on the player level (unless you've got a really meta game in which the PCs are aware they're in a game, and that sounds like No Fun At All to me, at least. :).

Posted by: Carrie at May 11, 2006 11:41:16 AM

I think that push and pull can happen both in and out of character, but what most people are talking about in terms of generating narrative happens out of character.

And I think the meta game in which the PCs are aware they're in a game sounds fabulous. Actually, one in which they slowly, slowly discover they're in a game and get completely horrified, or start talking back to the players; I wouldn't do it for laughs, but with some real pointed commentary; that would be awesome.

Posted by: peaseblossom at May 11, 2006 11:56:44 AM


According to my definition and understanding, Carrie is right. Assume I have something specific I want to happen in the fiction. If I can decide "Your character attacks mine," I'm pushing that input into the fiction. If I don't have that power, but I still want that event to happen, I have to pull, i.e., I have to somehow get *you* to put into the fiction what *I* would like to happen.

In Fred's pull example, what the GM wants to have happen in the fiction (to get the adventure underway) is that the player says, "My character goes to investigate it." He's trying to establish enough character motivation that the player will make that happen. Arguably, he could have just said, "There's a shaft of light and your character can't help but investigate. As you get there..." That would have been the push way of bringing about the same event in the fiction.

- Christian

Posted by: xenopulse at May 11, 2006 12:31:21 PM

See, now it sounds to me like Push is using sufficient force to say " what happens", and Pull is what you use to make something happen when you can't push. This isn't the sense I had gotten before.

I understood (from this Sin Aesthetic post) that both Push and Pull let you contest things. Specifically: "Both people are relying entirely on the listener to take the next step. That might sound like I'm saying both of these folks are passive, but I'm not: they both have instigated rhetorical movement by taking a position and calling for an action."

Ugh. I'm not trying to stomp all over other people's terminology, but it is squishing my brain into funny shapes trying to get all these descriptions to agree. The take on it I had from Sin Aesthetics and the Paul Tevis thread referenced there, that is still sticking with me, is something like
*Push is when you make another player address something
*Pull is when you show another player there is something they may want to address.

So "my character punches your character" is a Push because it your character has to address being attacked, NOT because it means you can do nothing to prevent that attack.
Saying to another player "how about our characters fight" is a Pull because you can say "nah, not interested in that" and not address what your character would do in a fight, OR jump all over it.

Posted by: Alex Fradera at May 11, 2006 2:15:51 PM


In addition to what others have said, it depends on social contract and background at the table. This goes right back to the first essays on push and pull, and the fact that it can be really damn hard to know if a given example is a push or pull unless you know a lot about the background of the game.

So, if the social contract at the table is hardcore Nar, in which it is assumed that your character must respond and must make a thematic choice to every opportunity presented to him, then the example could be a push. It would almost certainly be if the fighter player's goal is to force you to make a choice, and not actually to get you to steal the ring. Under that setup, once the fighter leaves the ring out, you have no choice but to respond to it, and no matter how you respond to it you will have made a choice. If that was his only goal, then sure, he's pushed you into it.

But the example as Chris stated it did not assume that. It assumed that the fighter's goal was to get you to steal the ring. Not to make a choice about stealing it or not in a thematic way, but to actually steal it in order to drive the story in a new direction. So simiply saying "I do not steal it" is not saying "I am making a strong moral choice about my theif" it is just saying, "I'm not interested in going there right now."

Also, in the first case you may not be able to say, "I just don't notice" but in the second case you can. If you can say, "I say my character doesn't notice because he's (insert any reason here, like 'thinking about stealing the cleric's holy symbol'), so my character doesn't have to make a choice about that ring" then you aren't being forced into any response in game.

Under that social agenda the thematic choice of your character stealing it or not to define his moral compass is not the challange to you, is not the goal of the other player, and so simply having to make an OOC choice is not forcing you to define anything other than your OOC interest at this moment.

If your social contract makes that particular example something that you must respond to because it is a fiat accompli, then it may be a push. If it is not a fiat accompli, but is only an invitation (or even a bribe), then it is a pull. So at that point your example and Chris's example aren't actually the same example because you assumed different social situations and backgrounds. Yours is an assertion of authority ("I have the right to make you chose, and choice is the thing the game is about") and his is a solicitation for buy-in ("Hey, if you steal it this cool thing can happen").

I'd say this mirrors Christian's statement above -- where the GM lures the characters forward rather than just telling them they went towards the light.

If you are in a game where you know you have to go where the GM steers you or else he gets pissed, then him saying "Oh there is this lovely light over there, so mystical and cool" is still a push, because what he's really telling you is "go over there now, I want you to go over there now, but I want you to have the illusion that you got to chose it." There is a bunch of "getting your investment" stuff going on on the surface, but we all know that the actual social situation is "you go there now, because if you don't the GM will take it as a dismissal of his authority."

OTOH, if you're playing in a game where the story/plot is legitimatly built moment to moment by the choices the players make, and the GM makes the statement "Hey, I think it would be cool if you guys went to the farmhouse, what would you want to go there?" and the player responded with "Oh, if there was a light from heaven, and it lasted only a moment, and so draws me in" that's pull. It can also be pull if the GM just says the light from heaven bit, but the players know they can ignore it without reprisals ("we're saying OOC it isn't God, so we aren't going over there") or buy into it in different ways ("cool, we go report it to the bishop in the city"). In any case where the GM is trying to intice the players to buy in, rather than forcing them into the situation (even if the force is covered with a veil of illusion) it starts moving towards pull.

But, in any case, you cannot, cannot, cannot identify if an example is push or pull outside of social context. If I've gotten anything out of the long run of these conversations it that.

Posted by: Brand Robins at May 11, 2006 2:38:17 PM

Alex, I just cross posted with you.

This thing here is close: "See, now it sounds to me like Push is using sufficient force to say " what happens", and Pull is what you use to make something happen when you can't push."

The thing you seem to be missing there is that pull is not what you do when you can't push. Pull is something you can chose to do even when you could push. If I can roll dice and say "you steal the ring now" it doesn't mean that I have to. I can still suggest to you that it would be cool if you stole the ring, and leave the decision of it up to you.

But as for:

"*Push is when you make another player address something
*Pull is when you show another player there is something they may want to address."

That sounds like a pretty close summation for push and pull in a Nar game. In the first you use your authority to make the address happen, in the second you get them to buy into it with you.

Posted by: Brand Robins at May 11, 2006 2:42:51 PM

OK, getting it, piecemeal. I definitely agree about the social context, agendas etc, which was kind of what I was trying to get at. Pretty much everything in your long comment I agree with, and was useful to have it expanded on.

I don't think of pull as a poor cousin of push either; that was my attempt to parse some of the stuff upstream.

In the *statements I gave, I had originally written them with the phrase "in the fiction" appended to the end of each. I also didn't mean address necessarily in terms of Address (ie Address Premise). So (and again, this is for me to more or less get hold of it, because my own words always mean to me what I want them to), what I meant to try out was
*Push is when you make another player deal with an element of the fiction
*Pull is when you show another player there is something they may want to deal with in the fiction.

Am I more or less on the right page? To try and get this to meet with the formulation I was having trouble with, Push "says what happens" insofar as it says "something to do with this thing happens now [in real time - it could be pushing a flashback onto people], and I want it to be x". Push isn't dictatorial (I think).

Posted by: Alex Fradera at May 11, 2006 2:59:32 PM

I don't think push is dictatorial. I like me some push.

I honestly don't like the "in the fiction" elements, but to get out from them I think we'd need to look at something like Universalis where setting up the social contract is done as part of the game. Are you familiar with Universalis Alex? Cause if so, I've got some ideas for you.

The only other thing I'd say to fiddle with you, is that pull is also usually not just showing someone else something they want to deal with, it is showing them something that you want them to deal with in a way that makes it interesting for them to deal with it. Or at least I would say that is the difference between a weak pull and a strong pull. If you just say, "Hey, you could do X" it may be pull, but its little pull. If you all get, "If you do X and Y, cause I love X and you love Y, then we could do Z and roll for AA!" it becomes stronger pull.

Make sense? Am I helping or confusing?

Posted by: Brand Robins at May 11, 2006 3:04:12 PM

It makes sense, I think. I haven't got Universalis but in my intensive Forge brain-dump I read a lot about the game, so I know the broad mechanics and kind of how play proceeds. I'd like to hear your ideas if that's enough preexposure.

Posted by: Alex Fradera at May 11, 2006 3:26:36 PM


Probably should be enough background. Also, note that this is me doing a possibly bad thing and moving into a semi-new area of discussion. So if this sounds like it is in conflict with things that you're clear about already, tell me so and then don't worry about it too much. This is me doing new stuff, at least a little.

Basically, Universalis is one of the granddaddy games of modern Forgey game design. It uses currency (in the game literally called "coins") to decide who gets to do what and add what to the game. So when you want to add something to the game you spend for it. If someone else wants it to not go into the game, they can bid against you and try to out spend you.

It's also one of the earliest games to clearly define and lay down social contract and methods of making social contract. And here is the thing that it does that many other games either don't do or only do by implication -- it has you sit down and divvy out coins first, then start working on "everything in the game" including social contract.

So when you get into building your social contract, you already have your game resources sitting there on the table and can use them to help negotiate the social contract. You get things into the social contract the same way you get them into the fiction, by spending currency and negotiating with the folks at the table. Thus making the social contract isn't a thing seperate from or outside the game, it is as much a part of the game as making the fiction is. It stands in stark contrast to the many games (even Forge games) in which we get very detailed and step by step instructions about the process of the game and adding to the fiction, but nothing more than a vauge "make sure you're all on the same page" for the social contract.

Micro Rant Here: I think that kind of view on the subject has lead us to thinking of the game and the fiction as the thing we do, and the social contract an external thing that we kind of have to think about because it lets us do it. Or, alternatly, to fetishize social contract as a thing of near Platonic perfection that cannot be apprehended in the same manner as the game flow or fiction creation can. Either way, we start thinking of fiction here and social contract there. :: End Micro Rant

So, in Universalis you can start pulling and pushing with mechanical support while you're making the social contract. You can bribe coins, spend coins, urge others to spend coins, and get all that right out in the open from the very start. It doesn't have to do with what you're entering into the fiction, it has to do with how you are setting up the social contract that will inform how the fiction gets made.

Of course you can start doing this in other games too, but because we spend so much of our time thinking about the fiction making of game we tend to seperate out the social contract making. Which is why I object to the "in the fiction" because, while that is probably the most obvious way and the easiest to talk about, things you want to address can include things in the social contract and social dynamic around the game as well.

Posted by: Brand Robins at May 11, 2006 3:42:45 PM

Brand, sorry - dinner and dvd intruded and bed now beckons - I will read this anon.

Posted by: Alex Fradera at May 11, 2006 6:02:06 PM

Thanks for sticking with me. There's a lot of stuff sprouting up about this round the web and Mo has offered her (definitive?) definition on Story Games, so there's a lot to go on. I will drink this up and let it sit for a while. Hope it's been more than a pedagogic exercise for you. Or, at least, a rewarding pedagogic exercise!

Posted by: Alex Fradera at May 12, 2006 11:26:08 AM


Now look what you've gone and made me do.

Posted by: Brand Robins at May 16, 2006 11:53:18 AM

Oh yes, i read it. Enormously useful. I was going to hang back from weighing in until you and Vincent had finished having at it. The moment of crisis is totally what I was stuck on!

Posted by: Alex Fradera at May 17, 2006 12:42:44 PM

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