The play example I have in mind is from a not-bad/not-great one-shot, so I assume it's not going to provide a conclusive example of any CA. I do think it works to illustrate the viewpoint I'd like to express, and how that intersects with actual play, though, so I'm going to go ahead.Preamble:
I came to the Forge in 2006, asked some questions about CA and G and N and S, and got some answers from Ron that made sense to me in a fairly limited way. He painted a compelling picture of why my drifted Werewolf game seemed Simulationist to him, but I wasn't sure if this was accurate or if he was missing something that I'd been unable to identify and/or communicate in writing. Link 1!
I was left with a picture of Right to Dream that was rather hazy: in it, I saw both "Exploration as goal rather than just foundation" and "Exploration as foundation for riffing off shared references". The latter began to fade as I pursued Ron's definition in follow-up discussions; our chats spent significant time on the right to be heard when contributing to the Shared Imagined Space, the constraining role of the group's package of input material, and the constructive denial of the fact that the group is inventing the package themselves. Link 2!
We ended our chat with me formulating this construction:
We could say that Exploration is prioritized as Simulationism precisely when:
a) the constraints on player contributions to the SIS are dictated by the players' reference to a package of shared input-material, and
b) these constraints are the primary criteria in determining player contributions to the SIS, and
c) the process of dictating constraints is experienced as if the package itself was doing the dictating rather than the players, which is only possible if
d) the players deny that they themselves created, and continue to create, the shared package.
and Ron saying, "Yep." Link 3!
So off I went, acquainted with a Simulationism that was based on a rewarding relationship of players to some sort of input package, but with both the package itself and the players' relationship to it being so potentially broad that it was difficult for me to say much about Right to Dream play. If the package could be either physics or Star Wars, and the players could either openly celebrate it or not even know what it was or that it even existed, I didn't have much to fall back on besides those (a) through (d) points and my own drifted Werewolf game.
Years later, on another forum, I spelled out my very broad impression of Right to Dream, another poster chimed in with a narrower one, and I gave Ron a call to ask, "Is it really as broad as I've been thinking?"
Though unwilling to accept most of the hypothetical limits I threw at him, Ron did say, "I don't believe you can do it by accident."
I was happy to hear this. It's a lot easier for me to imagine a functional creative activity organized around some shared material that's actually pursued
"Accessible." That's what just crystalized for me this week. That's what I'm here to share.Dead of Night game last month:
Have played one full game and one aborted game already, I offered to GM Dead of Night for the first time on a request from my friend Mark for a session of "claustrophobic zombie horror". I am not a big fan of zombies, but I do like bringin' the creepy as GM, and I do like the Dead of Night system, and all three players were on board with both, so I went into this with a good deal of enthusiasm.
My prep consisted mostly of grabbing a stat block from the book and then defining my monster, which was basically a contagious, desperate, emotional emptiness. You could get it not just from being bitten, but through any prolonged contact with an infected person, be it physical or emotional. Staring into someone's eyes, for example. Once afflicted, the victim would slowly grow melancholy, then mournful, then absolutely desperate for any sort of human connection (i.e. prolonged contact which would transmit the contagion).
Actual play featured Mark as sputtering-career middle manager Jim at a record label, Rohit as cold and condescending tycoon Thomas come to buy the label, and Andrew as punk band frontman Eli come to complain to his label about booking and studio time.
We had some lobby scenes to introduce the characters and bounce them off each other, and wound up establishing some strong relationships between Jim, his boss Marty, and their receptionist, Christine, Jim's niece. Thomas gave Marty some bad news; Jim interceded to stop their argument from escalating; Eli bitched to Jim about the music business; Thomas hit on Christine.
After that, I rolled out the despair-zombies. First a delivery boy looked miserable and hung onto Christine too long as she signed for a package. Then Eli's bassist showed up looking like he was crashing from a high, but claiming to be sober. Both NPCs proceeded through the stages of going from mopey to panicked despair, with Jim and Eli both agonizing over what to do. Thomas was detached at first, but the second it was clear that Christine was legitimately unhealthy, he called the paramedics. Every time a player character had more than brief contact with an afflicted NPC, I required a Risk check -- failures cost them Survival Points and I described feelings of coldness and despair coursing through them.
By the time Christine was fully zombified, a bunch of other NPCs were in various stages of affliction, and it became clear that it was Barricade Time. I think the Tension level was still under 10 at this point; definitely under 15. The PCs had rolled well, lost few Survival Points, and indulged in their Bad Habits to get back what they'd lost. I was hoping for passionate arguments about what to do, but the players stayed pretty subdued. Not totally
unenthused, just not very loud or thespian-ish or inspired with crazy plans. Eventually we established where a gun was, they barged their way through the horde to get to it, lost a few NPCs and Survival Points, succeeded in a few actions, and made it to the offices of the Home Shopping Network next door.
Somewhere during all that, I'd varied up the zombie behavior a bit, trying to imply that the zombies began to resemble whoever they'd last consumed, hoping to inspire some new strategies. No one remarked on it, though, so I dropped it.
We made a bunch of jokes about how the people who worked at the Home Shopping Network were so dead inside that even despair-zombies wouldn't touch them. Then I gave the players a moment to arm themselves and hide on the roof, from which they could observe the city going to hell around them. The energy had flagged a bit after lots of repetitive zombie-bashing -- if I ever run this game again, I am not
doing a "horde" monster, I'm doing something that can think and plan -- but Mark and Rohit generated a nice moment by contemplating jumping to their deaths. Thomas was used to living life on his own terms, and didn't want to simply struggle, fail, and be zombified in the process. Jim gave some "we have to try!"-type speech, which was well-conceived but tepidly acted. Mark noted a few times that he wasn't comfortable roleplaying strong negative emotions, so there was some aborted IC speech followed by things like "Jim's angry, he fumes a bit."
Eventually the PCs resolved to try to storm down the stairs and escape the building. Tension by now was at 17 or so, but they were all at nearly full Survival Points. I tried to chop up the "more zombies try to grab you" encounters into discreet units of varied locations, but it was a bit monotonous. Having lost track of what successful rolls earned the players in any ongoing sense, we just kind of rolled to see who died when, and gave the last survivor, Jim, all out of Survival Points, a final roll to escape the building, which we had decided would count as some sort of accomplishment, despite the wrecked city. He failed the roll, died at the door, and we all nodded in satisfaction.
People started packing up to go, and then I remembered to throw in my horror narration about how they're all still conscious, and desperately lonely, looking out at the world from a black hell. I got a moment of grim nods and that was that.
Overall a pleasant evening, but nothing that primed us to say, "We need to do that again!"
Reflecting afterward, my main complaint was not about hitches or disconnect, but about a lack of really enthused consonance. There were very, very few moments where someone took action or made a decision and anyone else went, "Oh my god, yes! That's perfect!" or gave any other sort of very strong reaction. My overall sense was that I'd wanted to see what Mark and Andrew and Rohit and I could do with Zombie Horror, and we'd found that the answer was, "Nothing great."*What we lacked was a Vision:
A few days ago I was chatting on a forum about when it's kosher to freak out, drop the torch and run away in a dungeon crawl, when another poster started trying to answer those questions with some shaky GNS logic. I tried to gently say, "That thing you see as Simulationism? That's really just 'running a simulation', which is different," but then the other poster wanted to know what Simulationism really
is, and I lamented not having a handy answer.
And then it occurred to me: maybe I do
have an answer. Maybe it's about the thing we lacked in my Dead of Night game. Maybe it's about Vision
See, it's easy for me to imagine how the Dead of Night game could have gone better, and my imagined version looks like this:
When the PCs are barricaded, and Thomas suggests they ram the zombies, and puts his hand on NPC Marty's shoulder to send Marty out first... if only we had enough context
for that, to view it in relation
to something, to either be surprised
or to appreciate the delivery of the expected
... then maybe the group would have celebrated that as awesome, instead of merely accepting it as fine.
Or maybe (perhaps more likely), if Rohit had enough context at his fingertips, enough zombie movies we'd all shared, then when Thomas pushed Marty forward, Rohit would have been able to add more
to the moment -- some details of portrayal or description to make it perfect
, or a twist
, or something
But we didn't have that context. We had some
sort of package of input material we brought into play -- we've all seen zombie movies -- but we never wound up with any accessible touchpoints for the whole group to see us all interacting with. When Thomas pushed Marty, it didn't set off a chain of emotion-laden associations for us to feel -- it was just a selfish guy pushing another guy toward danger, whatever.
So my thought is that a good
package for Right to Dream play is a Vision. A shared Vision among the players
-- not necessarily with perfect overlap from one brain to the next, but with enough that we can all reach out and interact with the same Thing. A Vision that we can know, and see in action, whether or not we ever give it a name or call out the movies and books and comics it's based on. And, in all honesty, being as direct and analytical and "let's get on the same page before play" as I am, I would
expect to be able to give it a name and cite some inspiring and beloved references. That's what my Dead of Night group missed -- we knew
zombie cinema, but we didn't love
it. We weren't inspired
by it. It didn't lead us to form a Vision we could play by and play with.Describing GNS Simulationism:
If my impression is still on target with Ron's concept, then this is how I'd describe it to others: "Right to Dream is about interacting with a shared Vision." And then I'd go on to describe how that can happen, and what it can look like, and how it can be fun, because all of those things make sense to me.
I'd leave out any discussion of rights and constructive denial and exploration platforms and subtypes like purist for system, as those can really
distract from the point. I'd put my (a) through (d) points above at the bottom of a big hole marked "footnotes", and hack off the part that states "this is how Exploration becomes Simulationism". It isn't. Exploration becomes Simulationism because we form a Vision we can share and celebrate or parody or stretch or otherwise explore for what grabs us about it.
That's my current thought, anyway. Ron, is this compatible with your Right to Dream?
* To be fair to Dead of Night and to us, I can spot any number of missteps on my part and other players'. Even with no superb Vision, we could have had more fun by using the rules more skillfully. That said, I still think a strong Vision was the single most important thing we lacked in terms of a fulfilling creative evening.