Monday, 29 July 2013

The Cyranoids

I learned today about one of the weirder concepts of Stanley Milgram, the social psychologist who did that (possibly dubious) electric shock experiment and started the idea (possibly dubious) of "six degrees of separation."

The concept is this: If you wear an earpiece and repeat what is said through the earpiece, you are speaking for someone else - as the handsome Christian spoke for Cyrano de Bergerac in Rostand's play - and so you are a cyranoid. (in which case, wouldn't the other person, the original speaker, be more like Cyrano? But I digress.)

Milgram's point, probably inspired by the correspondence bias in social psychology, was that observers would fall prey to appearances and judge the speaker in the light of the cyranized words. For example, to demonstrate that people construct unitary personalities in others with no real basis, he ran one experiment where multiple people sequentially provided the words for a cyranoid in a conversation, and the person speaking with them noticed nothing out of the ordinary - although the evidence for this rests largely on Milgram's own interpretation. There is even one apocryphal legend of a psychology convention where Milgram had a cyranized six-year-old girl give a physics professor's talk.

Since then there has been some toying with the idea. Some people threw a party and tried it out (pdf). It was weird. This guy is all like "FOR WE ARE ALL CYRANOIDS ARE WE NOT." Cyranoia strikes deep in reality TV shows. Some say the President is a cyranoid.

And adventure gaming? Three ideas.

In frame: You meet a representative with an oddly disjointed, rapid way of speaking. In fact she is possessed by three spirits/devils/wizards. When one pauses, another can take the chance to leap in. This may require a virtuoso performance on behalf of the game master. Each possessor should have a slightly different agenda, which will make the representative seem very indecisive until the secret is figured out.

Half in frame: Next time there is a statue or ghost or some other disembodied voice booming out, let it possess a player's character. Hand them notes and have them read them out loud. The effect can be immediate and startling. Instead of "Okay, let's try and do what the statue says" it is more like "Oh man this is creepy."

Out of frame: Gaming by cyranoid. With the right setup, a party of five at table can become a party of ten - five to play and five to talk, each participating in their own way. A single game master can work by committee, with three wizards, devils or spirits feeding him or her ideas remotely.

Do any of these live up to the sheer looniness of the word "cyranoid"? Probably not, but what can? I'm picturing 1950's science fiction, Invasion of the Cyranoids, an army of big-nose androids who at the last minute can only be stopped by the army's secret weapon - an aerial log bombardment.

1 comment:

  1. Little late on this but I think giving the players notes to read, of voices channeled through their characters is a great idea.