Deny, Deny, Deny

The Stone’s rule which seems to play most directly into the era of post-truth and misinformation in which we live is “Deny, Deny, Deny”.  This rule has direct tie-ins to concepts presented within Fighting Post-Truth by McIntyre, who refers to various aspects of Trumpspeak and their implications for honesty.  Most notably, she says that this system of values sees “belief is a signal of truth” and that “it places no independent value on truth”, instead focusing on the effects which the speech has.  Within the context of the film, the rule “Deny, Deny, Deny” is used as a means of maintaining a cohesive political narrative and not letting any outside events interrupt that plan.  If you continue to deny and stick by your original story, then it becomes a he-said-she-said, wherein at least some people are likely to believe you based on the strength of your signaled (but not genuine) honesty.

Though this a rule that is certainly a mainstay of the Trump era, it is also one of the few rules in the film which we see Stone actively break, with regards to his handling of the swinger scandal in the 90s.  While he first set out to deny the allegations and went on the attack, accusing a former employee of maliciously leaking the emails in order to smear him.  When briefly discussing this (before saying that he has no interest in rehashing it at great length) Stone seems at his most uncomfortable in the film – the spotlight is thrust onto him personally, rather than his actions.  It forces an interaction where Stone is forced to make a distinction between himself and his projection.  At one point, Roger tells the filmmakers to not confuse him for the “Stephen Colbert-like character” he plays also called Roger Stone.  When asked to create a formal distinction between the two, he says that that is for us to figure out.  But in this instance, he thought it necessary to (eventually) make it clear.

The way in which Roger Stone describes his political performance artistry draws many parallels with discussions of ARGs, albeit with the subject displaced and motivation shifted.  The designer seeks to create a game world which can be sufficiently confused with the real world and (often) seeks to make the distinction unclear.  ARGs exist in a realm which is not entirely post-truth in the sense described above, but necessarily gravitates towards certain elements of it in the interest of maintaining plausible deniability and effectively weaving experiential emersion.  The realms of the game world and real world should clash in non-obvious manners, similarly to how it is hard to tell whether Roger is acting or being genuine.  Doing so elicits a similar effect within the player – they are confused, and, in the instance of game design, this can be a perfect way of motivating them to engage with the product.

While watching Get Me Roger Stone (and recalling a number of psychological tidbits from various classes here) it becomes abundantly clear why this approach to politics is effective.  People generally have an inherent opposition to changing their initial positions and prefer to hear information which aligns with their preconceived notions, allowing for people like Roger to create fictitious rhetoric which, on a visceral level, just feels correct.  I think this concept actually has parallels to the designing rabbit-holes in ARGs.  When the player encounters a rabbit hole it should at least be in relative alignment with their expectations and conceptions of reality.  However, like the Roger Stone of augmented reality game development, designers are to problematize the content and push the limits of what we expect in our reality such that there is a feeling of incorrectness elicited within the players which draws them towards the subject matter and encourages them to explore further.  The principles here draw some similarities with Stone’s Rules – since they’re written by a professional fictioneer, they do make sense in a game design context.

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