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Author Topic: Subtyping Sim  (Read 9558 times)
iambenlehman
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« on: May 21, 2004, 11:29:08 PM »

Please forgive this introduction for being a little broad, and the analysis for being correspondingly narrow.  I think that this can be extended into other creative agendae, I'm just starting with Sim because I think it may be the most broadly misunderstood in this context.

   So you have a game.  Everyone is sitting around a table.  They have their characters set, the world in mind, a system in hand, and all that good stuff.  And you have a creative agenda -- let's say that we're playing Sim.  By which I mean that each player's creative agenda is classified, by GNS, as Sim.  Is this game functional at a creative agenda level?  I don't think it necessarily is.
   What?  Creative agenda incoherency when everyone at the table is playing Sim?  Yes.  Exactly that.

   Let's go down to an individual player level.

   Adam is a hard-core "realist--" he thinks that the game engine is there to approximate a largely realistic virtual reality of the game world.  He likes his magic explained in terms of high school science, and calculates falling damage with critical velocity charts from his physics textbook.
   Betty is looking for a thrill.  She works hard all day under an obnoxious boss and all she really wants to do is have a fantasy of being a powerful, effective person in a world where good and evil are clearly spelled out and she can bash the bad guys over the head.
   Carol is an anime fan, and she likes all things to "feel like anime," so that means lots of suddenly appearing mallets, chibi scenes, and a sort of wacky slapstick invading even more serious scenes, as well as throwing around some entry-level Japanese.
   Dan likes the concept of the role-playing game a virtual world -- he wants to explore all the nooks and crannies and just see what's out there.  He gets a big kick out of continuity and interactivity with the world -- the most fun he has in the game is when the world is changed because His Guy was there, and he also loves running into old characters -- things that reinforce the unity of the shared imagined space.

   Are these people going to play a functional game?  No.  And, I would argue, the dysfunction exists at a creative agenda -- they could all agree to play "Slayers" but would totally disagree on "how to play Slayers" and (more importantly) "why to play Slayers."
   But all their creative agendae are classified, rightly, as Sim.  So what's the deal?

   It is my proposal that each creative agenda category contains subtypes which are also mutually dysfunctional with each other.  I'm going to offer, by way of example, a brief explanation of a few Sim subtypes, based on what they describe.  I would love any comment on either my initial premise (from here above) or my outlined structure, including whether such analysis is necessary, what ties into system it might have, etc.  I think that the resolution on these examples might not be high enough -- ie there are probably subtypes on subtypes, but that's okay.

A) Virtuality
   Virtuality is the quality of unity and robustness of the shared imagined space, manifest in both in John Kim's descriptions of RGFA Sim and in the structures of Universalis.
   Virtuality is often assumed to be the priority of all Sim.  It ain't.

B) Realism
   Totally orthogonal to Virtuality, realist players prize a particular sort of emulation -- often of reality, but it also crops up with particular genres.  For the player who prizes Realism, breaking "the laws" of the situation is the worst possible thing, and situations that reinforce those laws are the most ideal.  The most extreme cases of this are the people who use bullet impact charts and talk about "their time in the army" where they learned the *real* penetrating power of an M16 or people who go on about how "anime" that action was.
   This is the quality that Call of Cthulu and BESM ought to support in the system, but don't.  This is the quality that, apparently, Living Steel has in spades.
   Note that Realists don't get along with each other very well, unless they are all on the same page about "real."
   Note also that there is a subtype of Realists, the Modellers, for whom the joy of building a mechanical model of a imaginary world eclipses the joy of actually playing in it, which exists as a sort of footnote.  These players love system conversions, and often have one system (Hero or GURPs are the likely candidates) that they convert everything into.  This is sort of an interesting proposition -- Modellers can get along with each other, just dreaming up worlds, but if actual play of any significant amount is taking place, they are already dysfunctional.  Universalis and my own Cradle are modeller's dream systems.


C) Fantasy
   This needs a better name, since it overlaps with the genre, but these are players who prize the game for the quality of the fantasy.  A form of these players are often called "power-gamers" by the unpleasantly condescending, and certainly playing powerful characters is a common form of this.  These people are essentially using the game to explore "what would it be like" where that is often, but not necessarily, "what would it be like to be cooler/stronger/meaner/sexier than I really am?"
   I am actually tempted to call this an unrecognized form of Narrativism, and I think it is often misdiagnosed as Gamism.  Thoughts?

D) Storytelling
   These players are getting together to have a story told to them about their characters.  (This form is so readily apparent to me that I don't know what to say about it.)

Thanks for reading.  I'd be interested in any response -- particularly, does this phenomen exist in your experience?  What implications does it have for the GNS classifications of creative agenda?

yrs--
--Ben
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lumpley
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« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2004, 06:56:42 AM »

Hey Ben.

I'd like to suggest something that'll bump a lot of these concerns, maybe all of them, out of the CA level.

Virtuality, realism (for which I prefer the word "fidelity," as in fidelity to source material be it the real world or what), fantasy (you mean "wish fulfillment," right?), storytelling - they're concerns that cross the three CAs.  Saying that a game is "like anime," for instance, says nothing about whether its players address Premise.

For a while I've been thinking about something I'd call "technical approach," that is, approach to Techniques.  It's the aesthetic or theory or philosophy by which you choose rules.  ("You" either as gamer or as game designer: selecting a ruleset is a lot like building one.)

Think about your own distinction between Natural Law rules and Credibility rules.  One technical approach might have a very strict "only Natural Law rules" standard, another might prefer Natural Law rules but be flexible about them, and another might not care about Natural Law rules at all.  Each of those might similarly take a position relative to Director Stance, relative to Actor Stance, relative to anime-ness, relative to power levels, relative to how many dice to roll at a time ... and so on.

A technical approach is an agenda, in a big way, but it's not a Creative Agenda.  It introduces design constraints (again, whether you're writing a game or setting one up to play) beyond the constraints of the CA.  Like say I want a Narrativist game that's like anime: I have to choose rules that both support collaborative Premise-addressal and are like anime.

I don't think you've identified sub-CAs.  I think you've identified some technical approaches.

Make sense?

-Vincent
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Eric J-D
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« Reply #2 on: May 22, 2004, 07:21:33 AM »

Hi Ben,

This is interesting stuff, and certainly resonates with my own feeling that problematic play is possible even when the creative agenda is shared among all participants.  Of course, I never took the time to explore why this might be, so I am really grateful to you for trying to clarify what for me was always just a nagging suspicion.  I think you have got some good stuff here.

Your initial example of various player preferences raises a few questions however.  For example, might Carol's fondness for anime-style events introduce an incoherence into play that proceeds from lack of clarity or agreement about genre expectations rather than from differences within the shared Creative Agenda?  If so, then I think you might need to revise the example so that you make it clear how the problem lies within differences within the CA and not differences that might arise from something that might have failed (or failed to have been clarified) at the Social Contract level.

My other question has to do with terminology.  You first say that "incoherence" can emerge even when the CA is shared by the participants but then state that "dysfunction" can occur within a shared CA.  I think here the terminology needs some precision.  Not all dysfunction is a result of CA incoherence.  Dysfunction can arise among players with a shared CA because of social contract/social space issues for example.  So, I think you need to determine whether what you are tracking is best described as a type of dysfunction or a type of incoherence.

Further, does the presence of different subsets of Sim priorities among the various participants result in the emergence of incoherent play or does it result in disgruntled and dissatisfied players.  In other words, what specifically emerges from these differences?  I can imagine play where Adam's and Betty's priorities might converge at times and diverge at others and result in apparently coherent play and yet leave both of them dissatisfied at the end of the day because neither felt as though his or her priorities held sufficient sway during the game.  To me this would suggest that subsets of the CA can result in dissatisfying but not incoherent play.

I think this is a very worthy undertaking and I hope you'll get lots of response to it.  I agree that within Sim there is a range of player dispositions and desires.  The real issue for me is whether the presence of these different dispositions results in play incoherence or simply player dissatisfaction.

Finally, any ideas about whether Narrativist and Gamist play include similar subsets of dispositions?

Cheers,

Eric
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: May 22, 2004, 11:21:46 AM »

Hello,

This thread is puzzling me a little, because I've always tried to make clear that each Creative Agenda includes dozens, if not more, "actual goals" of play. So my response to the observation that merely because everyone present has some kind of (for instance) Simulationist priority, they won't necessarily be happy playing with one another, to be ... obvious.

All three of my specialty-essays deal with diversity within the modes. You can see tremendous diversity among Gamist approaches and Narrativist approaches in each one - linked, yes, by a very fundamental "why we play" concept, but diverse in all sorts of ways: demand for effort, confrontation among people, authority over particular aspects of the system, and much more.

So that's why I'm puzzled - what I'm seeing here is a big "yes, that's right." If that's all, then that's great. It also strikes me that we've had many discussions here about this, always with the same conclusion.

Over the last year, with the help of many others, I've managed to put enough ideas together in what I'm calling the Big Model. Creative Agenda plays a special role in the model, but it's important to see that focusing one's (or several people's) Creative Agenda, during play, is fundamental. A group by definition must be using particular techniques, all the way down to fundamental stuff like "is there a GM" and "what is a GM." There is no such thing as playing "generally Narrativist," because the act of play automatically focuses it into a set of techniques - and by definition excludes a lot of others.

Ben, have you seen the three specialty essays, or taken a look at the new glossary? They might clarify the extensive diversity that is consistent (or historically associated) with each of the Creative Agendas.

Best,
Ron
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: May 22, 2004, 11:32:44 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

This thread is puzzling me a little, because I've always tried to make clear that each Creative Agenda includes dozens, if not more, "actual goals" of play. So my response to the observation that merely because everyone present has some kind of (for instance) Simulationist priority, they won't necessarily be happy playing with one another, to be ... obvious.


I'd just like to say that I agree with Ron. I've always understood it as a simple fact of the matter that there's much variety to the different CAs. On the contrary, I've never seen any claims anywhere that simply being in the same CA would automatically make the game coherent.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #5 on: May 22, 2004, 11:44:41 AM »

I don't quite this thread. I thought that Simulationism was defined as prioritized exploration which could mean prioritization of the exploration of one or more of the five element s of roleplaying: color, character, setting, system, situation. That seems like a more logical place to begin with this to me.
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montag
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« Reply #6 on: May 22, 2004, 10:18:04 PM »

As far as I'm concerned, yes, it's always been clear that there can be substantial disagreements within the same CA. IIRC Ron said so repeatedly. However, I'm not aware of any "solid" or "generally accepted" part of the theory which states what these within-CA differences might be. "Vanilla" and "pervy" come to mind, but I'm not sure of the current consensus on that distinction and the elements Jack mentioned might be relevant as well, though they don't seem mutually exclusive enough to me.
Perhaps someone with in-depth knowledge of the Big Model could summarise (a) the current status on divisions within the CAs (which is, what IMO Ben was getting at) and (b) how this relates to the concept of "incoherence" and the foundations of the CA concepts (in that CAs are partly defined through the fact, that at critical junctures people with different CAs will disagree on the "right" decision for no readily apparent reason. AFAIK this is what makes CAs special, because, again AFAIK, it's agreed that all roleplaying contains little g, n and s elements. If there is substantial potential for conflicts within-CAs, to a certain extent that IMO calls into question the special role of CAs.)
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markus
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #7 on: May 23, 2004, 06:45:25 PM »

Quote from: Markus a.k.a. montag
Perhaps someone with in-depth knowledge of the Big Model could summarise (a) the current status on divisions within the CAs (which is, what IMO Ben was getting at) and (b) how this relates to the concept of "incoherence" and the foundations of the CA concepts (in that CAs are partly defined through the fact, that at critical junctures people with different CAs will disagree on the "right" decision for no readily apparent reason.

I'm not certain whether it's inappropriate to step forward and claim to be such a person, but I think I'll address this question.

It has always been agreed that there can be disagreement between players holding to the same creative agendum. I don't really see how that's problematic.
Quote from: Markus
If there is substantial potential for conflicts within-CAs, to a certain extent that IMO calls into question the special role of CAs.
However, a group could have problems over who pays for the pizza, or what toppings to have on it, and this clearly is a problem that could ruin the night without having anything to do with the creative agendum. Similarly, a major argument over whether the rules require the referee to roll non-player character reactions or just role play them as he feels fit the character would be a techniques argument. It might be founded in creative agendum, but it might merely be a problem that one player thinks it should be done one way and another doesn't like it done that way, as a technique. So you can have conflicts over things that are not directly related to the creative agendum that can ruin the game.

Similarly, if we take narrativism for an example, let's set a game in the antebellum southern United States. If one player wants to address the premise of whether having absolute power over the lives of other people necessarily corrupts the one with power by playing the slave owner and another wants the game to examine the morality of the abolitionist movement while yet a third wants to ignore the slavery issue entirely and consider whether states ought to have had the sort of sovereignty which the south claimed before the war--you could wind up with premises that did not easily work together, players trying to get spotlight time for their particular interests, conflict springing from the creative agendum precisely because players who want to address premise through their exploration want to address entirely different and incompatible premises.

Thus with simulationism, that we want to discover, to explore the dream itself, makes us simulationist in our approach to play; but if we want to explore different parts of the dream we can be on pages as different as the players one of whom wants to go into the dungeon to face monsters and find a hidden treasure and another of whom wants to go to the city and try to break into the homes of rich people and steal their belongings. We're both pursuing the same agendum, but we want to do different things with it.

As to incoherence versus dysfunction, a glance at the glossary tells me that incoherence is specifically about game situations in which conflicting agenda are promoted such that players may be encouraged to do things which are in some ways supported and in other ways opposed by the game. Dysfunction on the other hand only means that for some reason the game was not fun--even if that reason is because we had a fight about who pays for the pizza and George stormed off early in a huff over it. Dysfunction thus is entirely social in its application (even when it's disagreement over techniques), and incoherence relates directly to agenda.

I think there is a confusion of language regarding "divisions within the CAs". If we take it to mean that people of a specific creative agendum can be exploring different things in different ways, using various techniques and emphasizing the elements to different degrees, then that's correct, there is variation which divides players within each agendum into subcategories of preferences as to how they prefer to support their agendum. If we mean that there are different kinds of narrativism, simulationism, or gamism, inherently within the core concept, then I think we've gone astray. The definitions are broad.

That is, when we say that gamists are interested in the glory of winning, we recognize that some will like games that are intensely strategic or intensely tactical or both, in which pawn stance is normative and the contest is strongly between the referee and the players--and that others, equally gamist, would hate such a game. This is a disagreement within a creative agendum; but it's not really a subtype--it's the same agendum, expressed in combination with a different set of other issues. All gamists are interested in proving themselves. The differences between how they are proving themselves do not make different agenda, but different methods.

Does that help?

--M. J. Young
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Emily Care
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« Reply #8 on: May 24, 2004, 07:27:40 AM »

Quote from: Ben Lehman
It is my proposal that each creative agenda category contains subtypes which are also mutually dysfunctional with each other.

Which matches both what Ron & M.J. wrote. If we take "subtype" to mean "subdivision", it's canon gns. No problem.

Quote from: M.J.
...regarding"divisions within the CAs". If we take it to mean that people of a specific creative agendum can be exploring different things in different ways, using various techniques and emphasizing the elements to different degrees, then that's correct, there is variation which divides players within each agendum into subcategories of preferences as to how they prefer to support their agendum.


Ben's describing trends he sees in styles of play that seem to fall under sim.   Each of the folks he gives as an example has a social/aesthetic itch that needs scratching.  This gives rise the variety of techniques & differing emphases on the elements of exp. that M.J. describes. I think the question here is, does the big model--and how we talk about it to date--adequately describe these trends. And if not, what are useful ways to talk about them, within or without gns et al?

Let's look at Ben's examples:
    [*]Adam is a hard-core "realist--" he thinks that the game engine is there to approximate a largely realistic virtual reality of the game world. He likes his magic explained in terms of high school science, and calculates falling damage with critical velocity charts from his physics textbook. [/list:u]Sounds like purist for system, at least as described in the sim essay.  I'm with Vincent that a person with these preferences is exhibiting a high desire for verisimilitude (specifically to real world physics).  Okay, how's this: this player does have a high focus on system, with the specific aesthetic goal of "simulating reality" (which we all of course recognize as being a representation of "reality" that fits this person's notion of how things work).

      [*]Betty is looking for a thrill. She works hard all day under an obnoxious boss and all she really wants to do is have a fantasy of being a powerful, effective person in a world where good and evil are clearly spelled out and she can bash the bad guys over the head. [/list:u]Social "agenda"--perhaps desire or preference would be better--of wish fulfillment.  Plain and simple. How is this normally described using the big model? Is it?

        [*]Carol is an anime fan, and she likes all things to "feel like anime," so that means lots of suddenly appearing mallets, chibi scenes, and a sort of wacky slapstick invading even more serious scenes, as well as throwing around some entry-level Japanese. [/list:u]High concept with an emphasis on color.

          [*]Dan likes the concept of the role-playing game a virtual world -- he wants to explore all the nooks and crannies and just see what's out there. He gets a big kick out of continuity and interactivity with the world -- the most fun he has in the game is when the world is changed because His Guy was there, and he also loves running into old characters -- things that reinforce the unity of the shared imagined space. [/list:u]Exploration of character and setting, especially as they interact. A great deal of satisfaction arising from experience of sis internal continuity (aka Mike Holmes' "fidelity" see Beeg Horseshoe Revisited).

          So, I'd say we mostly have terminology to describe them.  It may be useful to do so.  There is a lot of floaty, nebulous space right now between CA and actual play--the fact that a CA can only be observed over a long period of actual play and cannot be assumed based on techniques employed leaves us in a rather abstract state when we want to just talk about how people are playing.  It makes identifying a CA somewhat like Zeno's paradox (well, it drives me batty anyway).  We could use some ground on which to discuss the effect of using given techniques and how it may or may not fit with a given agenda. Remembering of course that no technique's absence or presence determines a CA. (whew)

          Ron, didn't you call for more discussion of groups of techniques and how they interact with CA's? If so:
          Quote from: Vincent
          A technical approach is an agenda, in a big way, but it's not a Creative Agenda. It introduces design constraints (again, whether you're writing a game or setting one up to play) beyond the constraints of the CA.

          ...this fits the bill.

          Yrs,
          Emily
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