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[Gameplay concept] Ethos

AHasvers's picture
Submitted by AHasvers on Wed, 01/28/2015 - 15:21

Ethos is originally meant to represent the trustworthiness of the orator - how willing the audience is to believe them on principle. It is the core of arguments from authority - which are considered a fallacy by modern cognitive psychology, but are an absolute necessity in real life: you cannot go on checking every single fact by yourself before accepting what someone else says. You will generally trust that this quantum chemist has an informed opinion on atomic orbitals. The fallacy is placing argument by authority above experience... and then again, not always - there are a lot of experiences you just cannot achieve by yourself without training.

Here we mix it up with modern Face negotiation theory [Toomey, Brown and Levinson] to elaborate the representation of each character's standing in the conversation. This is the resource management part of the gameplay.

Each character is given a set of variables:

  • Face: authority, reputation (as in losing and saving face), the "mask"
  • Territory: confidence, emotional stability, cognitive and material resources
  • Affinity: for each other character, how much they trust them due to shared history. This is generally not symmetrical: A can like and trust B much more than the reverse.

They intervene in multiple aspects of the gameplay:

  • Certain topics or arguments may come with a bonus or cost in any of these resources:
    • a subtle argument will increase your Face,
    • a criticism will decrease the target's Face,
    • revealing an intimate secret will cost you Territory.
    • anything that causes someone to lose some Face or Territory will also decrease their Affinity for the speaker.
  • When any resource is too low, a character may be driven to leave the conversation
    • This is generally to be avoided: even if you have a good argument, refrain from using it if it may hurt your audience's feelings.
    • This can be a goal in a debate with an audience; lowering the Face of the opponent untl they leave in humiliation.


Characters also have some actions at their disposal that directly affect those resources: this is generally known in scientific literature as politeness, facework and face reparation.

When using a topic or argument would cause the loss of some resource (I will call this a "threatening act"), this loss can be compensated by additional actions:

  • Apologies sacrifice a little of the speaker's Face to restore some of the listener's
  • Self-abasement also sacrifices Face to draw the audience's empathy and Affinity
  • Promises and contracts sacrifice some Territory for someone else's benefit
  • Euphemisms remove the edge of an attack but take longer to enounce

By using these actions at the same time as the original threatening act, the player can avoid any additional effect (such as a decrease in Affinity) that the losses would have triggered.

Ethos positions

Finally, "ethos positions" have additional effects depending on the relative Face of two characters. A good orator knows when to stand above their audience, treat them as peers, or play a subservient or subversive role.

  • Dominant face: A speaker with significantly higher Face will tend to be believed on principle on topics on which the listeners have no prior opinion (instead of them starting in a neutral opinion).
  • Equal face: When two characters have approximately the same standing, anything that affects one affects the other a little - any bonus or malus is shared in a small fraction, which encourages collaboration and causes equals to unite when one of them is attacked.
  • Dominated face: A speaker can use an inferior position for their own benefit, as inferiors' defects are more easily forgiven and a successful attack from an inferior is devastating (aka the Diogenes method). In other words: when one has significantly lower Face, all resource costs to self are decreased, and all damages on opponents' resources are increased.