Schrödinger's Gun GMing: The Power of Perception

Welcome to another article in the Schrödinger's Gun GMing series!

Note: This article was started in August 2012. I got inspired and finished it on the train this morning. Yay, persistence!

For clarity, no, the title doesn't mean I'll be writing about how cool the Perception skill is. A while ago I watched this TED talk given by Rory Sutherland in Athens. It's over 18 minutes on marketing and advertising, so come back later if you like.

If the embedded video is blocked, you can see it on the TED site. This ties in with some much earlier thoughts I scribbled down about The Rules vs. The World vs. The Game and the idea from the more recent Schrödinger's Gun GMing series that nothing is real in a game unless the PCs observe it somehow. For this article, I'll focus on perception and observation.
Perception Is Reality.
Any charlatan or con man will tell you this, but let's go a little beyond that here. To tie it to Quantum Theory, I quote the words of Pascual Jordan, "Observations not only disturb what is to be measured, they produce it." Starting in the quantum world, we take a few liberties with language and produce a new 3-word phrase:
Observation Creates Reality.
Note to self: Gather brains, clean carefully, and then reinsert into skull. Order is key.

The Delayed Choice Experiment
We can see this phenomenon illustrated in the Delayed Choice Experiment. For those of you who don't know it, here's a stripped-down layman's version.

Did someone say "Duality"?
Found at ThinkGeek.
Light acts as both a particle and a wave, something called duality. We have ways of detecting which way light acts at the moment. For simplicity, let's say we have a Particle Detector and a Wave Detector. If we release a single photon into a controlled environment with both detectors running, only one of them will ping, telling us that this bit of light is acting as a wave or particle. With me so far?

Now here's the funky part. If we release a photon into a controlled environment (so we assume it's already acting as either a wave or particle) and later decide which detector to power on, whichever detector we use will ping. If we power on the Wave Detector, the photon will act like a wave. In other words, the photon changes the way it acts depending on how we detect it. In this experiment, the way we look at light determines the way it acts.

Some say this breaks causality since a later observation seems to dictate the way the particle was created in the past, and there are other factors to consider, but I'll leave that for the more theoretically-minded to puzzle out. At the moment I'm focusing on the idea that looking for something causes that same something to exist.

What Does This Mean for RPGs?
Whenever a player asks for information, that question shapes the reality of the game world. For example, "What color is the man's socks?" This innocuous question forces several things into game reality that weren't there before the question was asked. 1) The man is wearing socks. 2) The socks are colored. 3) The man must have put these socks on earlier when he got dressed. 4) Someone made these socks. 5) If the man didn't make these socks, someone sold them to him. 6) Those are cool! Where can I buy my own socks?
It's usually not quite this dramatic.

It's up to someone else (usually the GM) to validate the existence of the socks and respond with what color they are, and then scramble to fit a sock shoppe in town when the party goes looking for one.

Here's the thing. Sock shoppes didn't exist in the game world until the player asked about the man's socks. In the game world, observation created reality, or more precisely, asking questions created reality.

Sure, socks make a flimsy example, but I think you can see the power of this concept. And yes, the GM could cut prevent the creation of that reality by responding with something like, "The man is wearing sandals and no socks." But I'll operate on the assumption that the GM responds with "Yes, and..." in this case. *POOF* Instantly sock shoppes exist.

Meanwhile, on a Psychological Level...
Beyond that, the player asks questions to find meaning in their character's surroundings. The player spends time finding patterns, creating tools, discovering hidden information, or doing something that will help the character overcome game world obstacles on the way to a goal. So every time a player asks a question or responds to a game-world stimulus, that action reveals what the player is interested in exploring through the lens of the character, and it gives clues to the GM on how to more fully engage that player. Aside from creating details about the world, questions can lead to a more engaged and deeper experience of play.

Yes, there's plenty to unpack here, and I'm not going down that road at the moment. If anyone wants to follow up on some of these ideas as a dissertation, you're welcome. *grin*

Final Example: A Short Film
Our life and our reality comes from what we experience, and we experience only what we pay attention to. For further illustration of this idea, take a look at this short SF film "Blind Spot".


Thanks for reading!

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