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Narrativism: Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury....

Started by Christopher Kubasik, June 15, 2004, 01:27:00 AM

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Quote from: contracycle
Now, what I'm trying to get at this: the external definition of Real Story - a sculpted phenomenon designed according to certain parameters is, it seems to me, exactly what Chris K was getting at.  And I think this is a good and excellent thing; I think the line between real story and trivial story should be more strongly drawn.

Well... good luck. I pretty much agree with Ron that this is futile. There are too many handy general definitions of "story" to make it usefull sans a specific local redefinition. But, more power to you if you think you can pull it off. :)

QuoteA sequence of events is not a story.  A sequence of events can be sculpted into a story.  The difference to me lies in the doing of this during play or post-play.  Story Now, whicl the distinguishing characteristic of Nar, is not the only form of story; non-Story Now behaviours can still benefit from discussion of formal story IMO, even if the raw transcript they produce is still not a story in the formal sense.

The essay does say that non-Story Now behaviors can produce story, as defined specifically to GNS. The thing that makes it Story Now is emotional investment of the player. Now I'm interested though. How would you expand on the local GNS definition of story?


Well  out of order then:

Quote from: PaganiniGareth I really don't see the dillema you're talking about. An analogy is useful insofar as it goes, and then you drop it. It's not difficult to create a story through play.

I'm working on the observation that recollections of actual in-play experience are always edited when recounted to others.  The actual action of play very seldom passes into the story that is told about that play after the fact.

IMO, this is identical to the creation of a story out of personal anecdote (identical rather than being an analogy).  We have the raw material of what we remember experiencing, and then manipulate that to create a story that works as an entertainment offered to others.

Therefore I say, a Story is the manipulated/crafted manipulation of a series of events.  But much RPG play as an imitator of experience tends to produce a series of events that is not shaped and manipulated in a consciously designed manner.

The techniques are straightforward. If we're satisfied with the end result, why get hung up on trying to conform our entertainment passtime to exactly match a completely different medium? I mean, who cares what the analogue for "author" is when we're playing an RPG? What possible impact could that have on what we collectively imagine?

Well, I was not objecting so much as agreeing.  For me however, the craftsmanship exhibited in the creation of Story is an overlooked aspect.

I fully agree with Chris K about the *distinction* between story and Story being the moral dimension; what I think is lost in this is that the moral dimension is an artifact, product of the sculpting.  So heres the thing: to me it seems Who Does The Sculpting And How is a very, very important issue indeed.

It would be quite legitimate for Sim players to create a *game* that was not sculpted, if they will subsequently enjoy telling stories that arise from these events, through the normal sculpting we would apply to anecdote.  The game itself would not be the story; the game is the source of anecdote from which a Story is later sculpted.

It would of course also be quite legitimate for Nar players to sculpt here and now and have actual play be a story in the real and important sense.  But I think it is quite difficult to quite a story in play for anyone except those for whom it is easy to create a story in play, if you see what I mean.  I'm not sure that for Sim players its either necessary or desirable on the basis that a series of events that is destined to be storyfied in the memory as it were is a legitimate output for their purposes, but it would be of immense use to such players to structure play overall in such a manner that facilitated such memory and storyfication.

QuoteNarrativism does not conform to "story craftmanship principles," whatever those might be. What they teach you in school, and what you read in writing manuals, is nothing more or less than observations about *what great writers have previously done.*

Actually I'm going to disagree and claim instead that by contrast to the other  two Nar does obey those rules.  What I mean by that is that Nar does aspire to duplicate the art/performance characteristics of storytelling, or more precisely, I think the practitioners of Nar do so perhaps 'instinctively'.  I think we should draw the distinction between this real story as mode of play and a series of events mode of play more strongly and more usefully.  

Great writers... do not follow rules when they write. They don't have formulas or fill-in the blank sheets. Heck, they don't even follow the rules of *grammar* consistently, if they feel that breaking a rule would add something. To put it another way, they are artists, not precision scientists. They make it up as they go; they don't follow rules.

If you find some literary technique you read about in a book useful for your RPGs, great. Someone else will do the exact opposite and be just as satisfied - and their game will be just as valid.

Well I'm going to disagree again and say that while someone may well have disregarded any advice and achieved good results, chances are they stumbled across one of the same techniques employed by said writers (consistently or otherwise) and which are articulated for the likes of us by Egri and his ilk.  Now I contend that a series of events mode is legitimate but with the caveat that I make no claim to call it story; but it would be useful to extract from real story the elements which facilitate it as performance art, for they would be useful anyway.  Let us say I think that story afterwards might be a valid goal as opposed to story now, but that both, as performances, being stories, benefit from formal storytelling structure.  Unfortunately simmers are largely ignorant of story structure in any meaningful way, and the presence of vanilla Nar means them as can do, but seldom teach.

I contend that that while series of events play is valid and useful, it benefits over the long term - and I think this is the primary source of interest in long term consistent play – from the same kind of 'crude' storytelling device that say a bad kung fu movie might use.  Or at least, that is about the level of exploitation of dramatic structure that sequence of events style play can rise to at the moment.

QuoteHere's the point: Narrativism does not conform to "story craftmanship methods." Writing novels does not conform to "story craftmanship methods." They both are schools of human vagary. They equally and independently conform to *what real people care about.* That's it. That's all there is to it. There is no man behind the curtain. What people care about is what you get.

No, that's mystique and romance I say.  Its not enough to say its what real people care about, because that is not the issue, what is at issue IMO is the mechanisms of sculpting story, how its done and why its done.  I like the strong distinction between real and sculpted story versus sequence of events because I think this articulation is useful, but I do not want sequence of events to be subordinated to trivial story; not because that's untrue – such story as there is in such play is often trivial – but because it would be more useful to be able to talk about the application of story technique to such play more directly.

While sequence of event splay is not story now, it still uses and needs story structure over all because it is still at least in part a storytelling exercise between the real people.    The purpose of bad plot in kung fu flicks is to meet the bare minimum to keep the audience engaged even when the audience are there mostly to see the kicks.  I think making MORE of an issue between real story and trivial story, and how the one can be transformed into the other by the application of observed technique, is be a good thing.

What I mean by the dilemma for RPG is that the shared imaginary structure, because it is shared, cannot exhibit a designed synthesis in the real time in which it occurs.  Nar players can produce coherent story now output through their convergent story now goals (the band analogy), but non-Nar players probably cannot anything that is Real Story-like (even if that is story afterwards) without doing so consciously.  Or, structurally through system.  Which means that sequence of events play may fail to meet the bare minimum of dramatic structure to maintain interest and momentum if they do not do so.  Sometimes the plot is so bad even the high kicks aren't enough to save the flick as anything other than sillyness.  I think sequence of events play can choke on its own success in hiding or ignoring the minimum narrative structure, in denying its relevance to continued play.  But there is a degree of authorship in system, in setting, in playing, and yet seldom does any have or assume authorship of a dramatic structure except by default to the raw talent of the GM.  OTOH, that's a licence to lay rails...

Such commentary as there is, due the ill development of this zone, is sometimes actually counter-productive IMO; arguably the idea of the through line and the premise, badly understood by those not familiar with formal story, has contributed to the legitimacy of railroading.  Arguably, tangential knowledge of the method and the character actor has contributed to the legitimacy of My Guyism.

Story does not exist only in books; of course, and there are functional restrictions that apply to different media.  The result is that there is an analytical corpus on how to write story in plays, story for screenplay, story for books.  We can pillage all of these but the goal of this should be the construction of a corpus of how to write story in RPG – outside of actual live Narrativist play.  In plays, you can't do close-ups, but in film soliloquies to camera are dull as ditch water.  Whats the RPG equivalent of these dramatic devices, and if there is not one, why not?  The soliloquy or internal monologue voice-over is an authors device for conveying the characters point of view on unfolding action; what do or can we do to achieve the same effect?  After MJ's assassin gets his feeling, we need a mechanism to extract and articulate that feeling SO THAT the other players can appreciate this play, this result, this outcome, this contribution to the SIS, not least because with such a mechanism the shared imaginary space starts to break up into localities as private experiences remain private, are not portrayed within the shared medium.

Chris Kubasiks own discussion of the Fifth Business was, I though an excellent example of the adaptation of a structural device from another medium; its more of that kind of thing that I want to see.  When talking about story, we tend to get hung up on what story is instead of how it's done, methodologically.
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Jack Spencer Jr


I think we're talking past each other. What seems to be the sticking point is the difference between principles and rules. Previously you had lumped the two together as if they meant the same thing. McKee differentiates the two terms with the following:
    [*]A rule says: do this.[*]A principle says: this works.[/list:u]

    (Hopefully this will not degenerate into nitpicking over the definitions of the terms "rule" and "principles" since what I have here should be readily understood without that)

    So I don't believe storytelling uses formulas or fill-in the blank sheets. It may not be a percision science, but there is a form to the art. There are principles that can be followed to help with the craftsmanship.

    P.S.  Gareth, I heartily recommend Story: Sustance, Structure and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee if you haven't read it already. The focus may be on screenwriting, but he covers the principles of story for any medium. Most of your comments are confirmed in this book.

    John Kim

    Quote from: Paganini
    Quote from: John KimSomeone can both find an issue personally compelling and want to play out what happens as it logically should.
    Yes, of course. That's what "Exploration" is. Ron says pretty much up front that a certain degree of causailty is necessary for suspension of disbelief. Most of the time narrativism will be perfectly plausible. But there will be times when you have to pick one over the other... you prioritize narrativism by having your character make the choice that you want, even if it's out of character, for example. That's why they're two separate creative agendas.
    Quote from: PaganiniYou're looking at that fine line between nar and sim where things get a little blurry. Just remember that the deciding factor is what the players are juiced about at the moment of play.
    Well, you're mixing your dichotomies again.  First you say that the deciding factor is about choice of PC action.  Then you say that the deciding factor is what the player is juiced about.  So you're presumably asserting that these two are inherently linked: i.e. people who at critical points choose to stick to in-character play are not juiced by moral issues.  

    But there's no obvious logical link between these two.  i.e. I can be juiced by moral issues and still stick to in-character play.  Now, one could claim: "There's no possible way that moral issues could arise in a game unless you break from plausible in-character play."  However, I don't think that's true.  I do think that there are limitations of Virtuality / RGFA Simulationism, but lacking moral issues isn't one of them.  Perhaps this is best split off into a separate topic, though.
    - John

    C. Edwards

    Hey John,

    Quote from: John KimBut there's no obvious logical link between these two. i.e. I can be juiced by moral issues and still stick to in-character play.

    Certainly, but if a situation presents itself to where sticking to in-character play doesn't address the moral issue to the player's satisfaction then a decision must be made. The player will lean one way or the other showing, in that instance at least, what the player is prioritizing.

    There's lots of gray area there, I think. What are you prioritizing if you alter your character's action to better address the moral issue at hand but still feel that you've remained true to the concept of your character? Personally I think such instances are probably non-decision points as far as GNS is concerned. They don't exceed the critical mass necessary to illustrate that the player is prioritizing one CA over another.


    Mike Holmes

    And around and around we go.

    Beeg Focking Horseshu

    Rather, I think Walt has the right of it. We do all three all the time to some extent, but the problems occur when self expressions forms become visble and abhorent to each other. All play is about persuing moral things, it's just that some play is more concerned with doing so in a way that makes the game universe seem "real."

    Nobody's disagreeing here. You're all just pointing out two different phenomena that co-exist. Remember, not mutally exclusive except for the "tell" moments.

    Member of Indie Netgaming
    -Get your indie game fix online.

    C. Edwards

    Hey Mike,

    QuoteRather, I think Walt has the right of it. We do all three all the time to some extent, but the problems occur when self expressions forms become visble and abhorent to each other. All play is about persuing moral things, it's just that some play is more concerned with doing so in a way that makes the game universe seem "real."

    Nobody's disagreeing here. You're all just pointing out two different phenomena that co-exist. Remember, not mutally exclusive except for the "tell" moments.

    I realize this, you realize this, Walt realizes this, a whole bunch of other people realize this. But for those who don't, just stating it without further explanation and discussion can just look like a big blank brick wall. Besides, sometimes these discussions spawn something worthwhile.

    So, yeah, round and round and all that. But maybe for a good purpose.


    Mike Holmes

    Quote from: C. Edwards
    So, yeah, round and round and all that. But maybe for a good purpose.
    Well, I suppose we can hope. But this thread seems to be real reminiscent of about four others that I can think of.

    And I'm not going to repeat myself, personally. So, sorry if I've added nothing.

    Member of Indie Netgaming
    -Get your indie game fix online.

    John Kim

    NOTE: I'm going to continue this in">Virtuality and Ouija Boards thread, as it seems to fit better with that topic.
    - John



    That was... wow. Long. Deep. It's gonna take me a while to digest it. I just want to point out that the "sequence of events" style play is the ret-con kind of simulationism that Ron talks about in one of the essays; I can't remember the exact term he uses.

    But, let me see if I'm on the right track here. I said earlier that a certain degree of causality is always required for suspension of disbelief. It seems to me that your point is that the converse is also true: a certain amount of theme is necessary to maintain player interest. That compliments Mike's point abou all modes being in simultaneous operation.  

    (BTW, Mike's point is basically the same thing I'm saying to John, only stated with a backwards analogy. The way I think of it, none of the Creative Agendas are in operation, most of the time. We're just engaging in the act of play: Exploration. A Creative Agenda evidences itself during play only at exclusive decision points - i.e., playing a certain way stays true to one Creative Agenda, while at the same time invalidating the priority of a different Creative Agenda.)


    We're cool, then. I'm with the distinction between rules and principles, just as long as we recognize that a principle is like a tool that may be used if you want it. Some people choose to forgo the tools, others choose to invent new tools. I guess that makes a writing book an analogue for a toolbox containing a lot of tools invented by other people.

    From your earlier posts, it seemed like you were trying to put narrativism in a box of proscribed techniques. Maybe I just wasn't reading close enough.


    The deciding factor for the existence of Story is the choice of PC action. The deciding factor for the existence of Narrativism is being juiced about a particular resolution. Those are two different things.

    See, any time a character is faced with a decision of the type I described, theme will be generated. The choice that the character makes will make a statement about value. So you get theme, even if the character always acts completely in-character. Sim play can produce Sory.

    The thing about Narrativism is that the player cares about which way the choice is made. The Narrativist player wants the situation to work out a certain way, even if that resolution contradicts the game causality. If that resolution *doesn't* contradict game causality, the prioritization is invisible. We can't tell whether the player wants causality or theme, because both are present. We can only tell when the two become mutually exclusive.

    To expand on what Chris said, a creative agenda is not some kind of always on current. Creative agendas are only identifiable in action when they clash, and a person chooses to prioritize one over the other.