An Understanding of Context Channels
Today, I talk about the think I brought up last week in my post about minimalism vs baroque text design: context channels.
A context channel is a collection of related information dictated in the same way. Rules are one context channel. Examples are another. Commentary sidebars are yet another. And fiction in games is one more context channel.
(There are other channels that cannot exist in a book, like in-person or video demonstrations, actual play podcasts, and, you know, actually playing the game. But I’m talking about text design here, so those are out of scope.)
Here’s a quick diagram I made to help illustrate this idea:
This goes into one & two contexts, which is typically what you find in most games: games that are example sparse (and thus really only have rules) are one-channel, and games with a healthy amount of rules & examples intermixed are two-channel.
For examples of three-channel, look at the commentary on either The Dresden Files of the various Burning Wheel books.
If you have only one context channel in the book, that is the make-or-break point. If that doesn’t convey information that sticks with confidence in the reader’s mind, you’re fucked. If it does, then you’re awesome.
If you have more than one context channel, you increase the likelihood that you’ll created that confidence-rich understanding…in theory. However, if that second context channel is sloppy or discordant (like the examples don’t appear to quite mesh with the rules), then you can destroy confidence the first channel created. The chart above (attempts to) visually show the potential results of two context channels.
Note that in two of those three situations, the result is positive. That’s why I’m about multiple contexts. And since I want to support people with learning disabilities (a later post), that’s why I look at text design this way.
However, if you’re not careful, it can backfire. The multiple contexts have to be in sync, sympatico, in both content and page placement. Otherwise you’re created a murky environment, and very few people feel confident in a bog.
And it does generally increase the amount of text to read & process, though if it’s done well it’s visually distinct enough for people to skip it if they feel like their minds want to keep on the current context (or, in layman’s terms that most readers think, “I’ll read the examples later once I’ve finished with the rules”) and it’s appropriately adjacent to related information.
This is the intro post about the idea. I have a flight to catch, like, right now, and the wifi here is hell. So, more later! :)
Happy Boxing Day, y’all.