Friday, September 11, 2015

Investigation Skills for the Cypher System: Information Systems

In this series of posts, I am proposing some general knowledge/investigation skills for Cypher System games.  Previous posts included a justification for the need of more general investigation skills and provided one detailed example:  chatter.  In this post, I will propose a second skill -- information systems.  The goal is to define a skill that is useful in a broad range of contexts (that is, able to compete with skills like perception for player attention) and will help define aspects of a character for purposes of role playing.  

The essence of the information system skill is aptitude at finding information in organized systems ranging from ancient libraries to advanced electronic databases.

The Great Reading Room at the University of Oklahoma
(Wikimedia Commons)
A useful starting point is the definition of information.  Informal definitions of information are quite general.  Information, in the simple view, is just a series of facts.  However, more formal definitions focus on distinguishing information from mere fact or data.  A fact or data is just an observation.  Information is a fact (or series of facts) organized in some way as to create meaning.  The important element for our purposes is that information is a series of organized facts.  

One could be skilled in the methods of organizing facts.  This skill would not make one necessarily an expect in a specific set of facts (more on that in coming posts).  Instead, a character skilled in using information systems would be particularly good at wringing the right facts and the right meaning from an organized system.  

I struggled with the name for this -- and welcome any suggestions.  I decided to go with "information systems" because it emphasizes the organized (systematic) element of the skill.  However, the term is closely associated with contemporary electronic databases.  Usage of contemporary databases would certainly be included in this skills.  Those who possess the skill are particularly good at wrestling information (again, data + meaning) from these large databases.  The player could pull that address they are looking for from an online database or find that hidden gem of a message board with just the right participants.  The character does not necessarily know answers - but she can find them.

It is important, especially for The Strange, to see that the skill extends beyond electronic databases.  Libraries are also systems for information.  This skill would cover the navigation and exploration of traditional (read "hard copy") libraries.   Finding just the right source in such a library certainly calls for skill.  This might include looking for some information in a library of the Order of Truth in the Ninth World, a large collection of tablets in Ardeyn, or even Sherlock Holmes personal library.  This is why I could not resist including a photo of the reading room at my university's library. 

The same skill could apply in far future settings as well.  In Ruk, this could include navigating the All-song to find information or even the datasphere itself in the Ninth World.  What is important is that each of these is an organized set of facts (a VAST set, in the latter two cases).  A player with this skill understands the underlying architecture of knowledge and how to follow its contours to answer questions.  Of course, this does not guarantee that any particular information system includes the answers the player seeks.

Taking this skill can provide some clues for the personality of the character.  This is a person with a voracious appetite for information.  This may not, and likely does not, mean an appetite for a specific type of knowledge.  Those sorts of appetites motivate different types of skills like science nerd or voyager (I think I will cover those in the next posts).  Instead, this character collects information of all sorts -- almost like a hobbyist collects action figures, spoons, or comic books.  

The skills may also suggest something about the characters background.  The character may have formal training in library or information science or simply spend a lot of time at libraries.  To take the "skills as background" approach more seriously, one may say that the character has an established identity (professionally, maybe) as one who can find information that other people can't.  This has been a valued skill in just about every society and every technological level.    

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