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Author Topic: GM premise in narrativist play  (Read 2775 times)
matthijs
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« on: June 18, 2004, 10:25:54 AM »

This has probably been asked before, but:

In narrativist play, players define premise for their characters. The setting is a tool for addressing premise.

Can the GM be said at times to use the setting as a means to address premise? Would the GM then be better described as a player, using the setting as his/her character?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2004, 11:30:18 AM »

But of course. Addressing premise is not a priori an attribute of a character, or a rules system, or a game world. It's only an attribute of one or more of the players. The GM is a player like everyone else, and he might have a premise or not, depending on the playing style.

Thinking of premise as an attribute of the character makes some things really hard to understand. Sure, you can design a character that's focused on a premise, but you could as well address a premise through some entirely other means. It's not the character that makes your play narrativist, it's the fact that you the player are invested in the premise.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #2 on: June 18, 2004, 01:30:52 PM »

Eero's right (I assume that we're talking about Premise in the current definition per the glossary). Also, premise is defined locally for every decision. That is, a character might tend to produce certain sorts of questions, but when it comes down to it, the question at hand is actually what the situation is delivering.

We talk about this in terms of Sorcerer a lot.

In Sorcerer, the overall premise of the game is "What would you do for power?" This is immediately localized by the GM providing the one sheet and the getting it right with the players. So a specific game of Sorcerer might be, "How bestial are you willing to become to dominate those around you?" Then a player might have a character which narrows that to, "Will you run like a wolf to gain the freedom that their strngth of spirits can give?" Which in a specific case might be, "Will you take on another wolf spirit to give you the strength to climb the tower to get to your lady love, risking losing the humanity that you need for her to even recognize you?"

See how these things change as the scope changes?

Mike
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matthijs
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« Reply #3 on: June 18, 2004, 01:41:25 PM »

Okay. Just to make sure we're talking about the same thing here, let me provide an example:

The setting has an in-built conflict between Christian missionaries and the little people. This is connected with a general issue of civilization vs nature. The GM's premise is: "Can a dominant, expanding culture and a traditional, passive culture co-exist? In what form?"

However, players have other premises they address. Different time scales are involved, so the GM's premise is being addressed much more slowly. Sometimes it ties in with players' premises, other times it goes on in the background.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: June 18, 2004, 01:57:01 PM »

Quote from: matthijs

The setting has an in-built conflict between Christian missionaries and the little people. This is connected with a general issue of civilization vs nature. The GM's premise is: "Can a dominant, expanding culture and a traditional, passive culture co-exist? In what form?"


An interesting example of a premise that's not stated as a moral question. Periodically people here hash out the limits, and while some prefer to take the premise as a "moral question", some see it as too narrow. Usually this is a matter of how wide one takes "moral" to be.

Quote

However, players have other premises they address. Different time scales are involved, so the GM's premise is being addressed much more slowly. Sometimes it ties in with players' premises, other times it goes on in the background.


Yep, quite possible. It should be noted that a player can address premise on his own, he doesn't necessarily need other players to support him. Thus the above is a quite possible case even if other players are not interested in the juxtaposition of civilization and savagery. However, the unity of the game can suffer if the players are not clear on the currents and do not honor the worth of the other player's issues. Thus it might happen that the GM premise is flattened by the sheer bulk and immediacy of the other players. Depends entirely on case-by-case negotiation of the actual players in the actual situation.

Then again, this is what happens always when each player has his own premise. To play a narrativist game with other people you need a modicum of capability of responding to other players and their issues.
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matthijs
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« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2004, 09:56:32 PM »

Eero,

Good point about how players can address premise on their own, but it's better (for unity and play experience) when players at least know of each others' premises.

It spawns a new question (how to make players with different premises interact?), which has probably been asked gazillions of times, so I'll search the forums for threads on that.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #6 on: June 19, 2004, 02:21:25 PM »

Quote from: matthijs
Good point about how players can address premise on their own, but it's better (for unity and play experience) when players at least know of each others' premises.

It spawns a new question (how to make players with different premises interact?), which has probably been asked gazillions of times, so I'll search the forums for threads on that.


There's a base assumption that's incorrect here. Premise isn't thought about...almost at all. Most players producing narrativism couldn't tell you what the premise they were addressing is.

People somewhere along the line get the idea that premise means that at some point the player says, "Aha! My character is about the clash of neo-classicalism and postmodernity!" The only game that I can think of where the player is required to state something like this at all is my game Synthesis - and even then it's couched in game terms. In Sorcerer, sometimes people make a premise statement when they determine what humanity will be for the game, but it's really an academic excercise, and you don't have to do so for play. Once playing with the humanity definition in question, premise exists and is occuring in play. Players create character premises merely by defining their characters and kickers, etc. They create new premises on the spot by what they decide to have their characters do. There is no external process.

Do you see the importance of what I'm saying. Players producing narrativism don't think, "Gee, this conflict gives me a chance to address the concept of love vs. ethics." They just play. And premises are created and addressed.

So, no, it's plainly not at all important if other players "know" what the other player's premises are at all, from one POV. All that's required is a feeling that some premise is being addressed (or even just that premises aren't being overlooked).

I think that the everyday meaning of the term premise is getting mixed in here. It was formerly part of the theory meaning something like this - something like "What's the character about?" Sure it's important for players to understand the basic concepts of a PC, so they can enjoy the contexts of the players decisions. All this requires, however, is allowing each other to read each other's characters sheets, talking about the character, and in general playing with as much OOC chat as needed to deliver any local context that might be missing. Hardly different, if at all, from any typical play.

Most importantly, it's actually not at all undesirable for players to be addressing different premises. It probably wouldn't hurt to have more than one player addressing the same premises - after all they're likely to diverge in choices at some point. But there's absolutely no reason at all why players can't be addressing even vastly divergent premises in the same game. One PC could be all about "Power vs Humanity" and issues within local to his character, and another could be addressing "Law vs Liberty" sorts of issues. There would be no problems with this at all.

Further, premises change at any time. A player may start out looking at once class of issue, and end up dropping that (or resolving it) only to pick up a completely new set of premises at any time. On any level. System support may be greater or lesser for many premises, but consider that most narrativism has occured using systems that do not support it at all. Hence the premises in these games were all entirely player generated, and completely unique to the desires of the player.

Am I making things more clear, or less?

Put it this way, games do not have premises, nor do characters. They have support for addressing certain kinds of premises. What premises are actually addressed come out entirely through play.

Mike
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matthijs
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« Reply #7 on: June 19, 2004, 11:47:00 PM »

Mike,

Quote
games do not have premises, nor do characters. They have support for addressing certain kinds of premises. What premises are actually addressed come out entirely through play.


Someone should give you a medal for all the great explaining you do on the Forge :)

I don't think I've ever stated premise for a character, and haven't played with anyone else who has. However, with my setting, I'm thinking about it a fair deal - mostly so that I can explain to others what they can do with the game.

In the post you quoted, I think I got things mixed up. What I meant was something like: Players should not operate completely independently of each other, running in effect three or four solo games. Knowing or having a feel for what other characters are about will definitely help the group play together.

Oh, and looking at your post again, that's exactly what you said. And Eero mentioned it too, I see. Uh... apparantly another of those things that one understands only when saying it in one's own words :)
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2004, 06:50:43 AM »

Cool. :-)

Mike
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Doctor Xero
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« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2004, 10:45:18 AM »

All right, this thread has me a tad confused, now.

When I have been commissioned by players to run a superhero campaign for them, for example, I will consider possible thematic threads for them to pick up or ignore as they will, I will specifically seek out player input on thematic threads the players would like available for their characters to address, and I also will incorporate a few thematic questions of my own into my campaign design.  I find the structuring allowed by using a familiar and beloved genre aids me in this endeavor.  As the campaign goes on, players through their characters will grapple with some of these thematic premises, ignore others, and introduce still others.  The genre conventions (e.g. players have to play superheroes not supervillains) provide stable grounds from which the premises can be more emphatically addressed.  Of course, we will also have fun just playing out our favorite superhero tropes and motifs!

Much of the above sounds like narrativism, yet I have been told that my grounding in genre means I run only simulationist campaigns.

Huhn?

Doctor Xero
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #10 on: June 21, 2004, 11:45:10 AM »

Quote from: Doctor Xero

Much of the above sounds like narrativism, yet I have been told that my grounding in genre means I run only simulationist campaigns.


Wouldn't this be a problem for the one who is doing the telling here? I mean, don't believe everything you're told.

Seriously: creative agendas are not absolute styles of gaming, they are properties of individual choices made during play. Thus, when a player makes a decision based on how a superhero is supposed to act that particular decision is solidly sim. On the other hand, when the player makes the choice to reinforce a particular meaning, it's narrativism. The difference is obvious in some situations, but some particular examples are quite hard to fathom from outside the player's head. Consider:

Quote from: Hypothetical play example
Hyperman confronts a villain bend on destroying the city. He gets an opportunity to stop the villain by killing him. Will he do it? The player tells us "no".


Now, the above could be a sim or nar decision, you cannot tell which it is. Let's take a look at the head of the player:

SIM: "Hmmm.... sure, I could take the chance, but it'd be no fun; superheroes don't act that way."
NAR: "Hmmm.... on the other hand is the life of the city, on the other the principle of not killing, one that's deeply instated in the character I have. I will choose not killing, even if it puts the city at risk."
GAM: "Hmmm.... I could take the villain now, but I'd lose the karma points. Better to wait until I can stop him without killing."

A decision can be nar if it's not predicated on staying in genre, and it's sim if the genre expectation degrees the decision or multiple possible choices.

What I'm trying to say is that although your game seems to be based on some sim interest on genre fidelity, you have some elements of nar there as well. I'd say that if genre wins always and players never make decisions outside it, it's a good chance that your game is "sim", whatever you mean by calling a game that instead of a singular decision.
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Doctor Xero
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« Reply #11 on: June 21, 2004, 12:02:23 PM »

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
Consider:

Quote from: Hypothetical play example
Hyperman confronts a villain bend on destroying the city. He gets an opportunity to stop the villain by killing him. Will he do it? The player tells us "no".


Now, the above could be a sim or nar decision, you cannot tell which it is. Let's take a look at the head of the player:

SIM: "Hmmm.... sure, I could take the chance, but it'd be no fun; superheroes don't act that way."
NAR: "Hmmm.... on the other hand is the life of the city, on the other the principle of not killing, one that's deeply instated in the character I have. I will choose not killing, even if it puts the city at risk."
GAM: "Hmmm.... I could take the villain now, but I'd lose the karma points. Better to wait until I can stop him without killing."

< laughter > No wonder the confusion!  My best players and I would be thinking in this situation thusly:

DR.X: "Hmmm... on the one hand is the life of the city, on the other the fact that superheroes don't act that way and I really, really want to be a superhero.  I almost chose to kill him to save the city, despite my beliefs against killing and the fact that superheroes don't act that way... Can I really still call myself a superhero?  Or am I a fraud -- to being a superhero and to being true to my own beliefs in the sanctity of all life!"

I guess my best games could be labelled simula-narrativ-ist! < grin >

I think I'll stick to labelling them fun (when successful) on my own time and worry about G/N/S when discussing G/N/S!

Doctor Xero
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #12 on: June 21, 2004, 08:39:22 PM »

Quote from: Doctor Xero

< laughter > No wonder the confusion!  My best players and I would be thinking in this situation thusly:

DR.X: "Hmmm... on the one hand is the life of the city, on the other the fact that superheroes don't act that way and I really, really want to be a superhero.  I almost chose to kill him to save the city, despite my beliefs against killing and the fact that superheroes don't act that way... Can I really still call myself a superhero?  Or am I a fraud -- to being a superhero and to being true to my own beliefs in the sanctity of all life!"

I guess my best games could be labelled simula-narrativ-ist! < grin >

I am persuaded that simulationism, for as long as it has been with us, is very poorly understood. Because simulationism-supporting games have tended to be high on rules detail (something which indeed does tend to support the simulationist agendum), we fall into the error of thinking that high fidelity equals simulationism, and then the Beeeg Horseshoe looks particularly appealing because simulationism suddenly isn't anything more than verisimilitude or genre fidelity or some similar version of "realism".

There is only one question that needs to be answered in the situation above: are you most interested in exploring what it is like to be a superhero the way they are portrayed in the comics, or are you most interested in making a statement regarding when if ever it is good and right to kill someone? Both can't be most important; one must trump the other, even when they yield the same response. If you spared the villains life, you might have done it because you wanted to discover what it was like to be the superhero in this sort of world, or you might have done it because you wanted to make a statement about good not stooping to the means used by evil even to stop evil. "Genre fidelity" is in this sense a red herring. It is correct that to discover what it would be like to be a character in this genre, you must remain faithful to the genre. However, if you decide that you want to remain faithful to the genre while making a statement about the premise, that is narrativism, and no amount of dedication to genre fidelity will make it simulationism, because simulationism is not primarily about genre fidelity or verisimilitude, but primarily about the sort of discovery for which such a foundation is necessary in order for us to learn anything at all.

One of Ron's essays contains the famous section, $#!+, I'm Playing Narrativist. I'm really inclined to think that you are. You've got a high commitment to genre fidelity, but that's not the same thing as simulationism, and it's only confusing the issue to think so.

I hope this helps.

--M. J. Young
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Doctor Xero
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« Reply #13 on: June 21, 2004, 09:06:10 PM »

Quote from: M. J. Young
There is only one question that needs to be answered in the situation above: are you most interested in exploring what it is like to be a superhero the way they are portrayed in the comics, or are you most interested in making a statement regarding when if ever it is good and right to kill someone?

In the above situation, I want to start out the campaign exploring what it is like to be a superhero the way they are portrayed in the comics, and then once I have done that, I want to explore whether it is ever good and right to kill someone and explore what a particular answer to that question really means and what its effects are, et al.

Without exploring what it is like to be a superhero the way they are portrayed in the comics first, I would feel that I have no grounding from which to explore the ethics of killing or sparing nor to play with any answers I might consider apropos that issue.

Once I know all the "rules", I know which ones to challenge!

And sometimes I want to challenge, and sometimes I don't.  So some days we have an intense game in which characters have volatile arguments over whether or not to allow another person to commit suicide, and on other days we have nothing more than a genre-appropriate version of a dungeon crawl.

When I've finished exploring possible answers to when if ever it is good and right to kill someone in one part of the superhero genre or "reality", I want to move on to another part, explore what it is like to be a superhero in the comics in that new superhero subgenre, and then once I have done that, explore what ethical questions I can through this new metaphor and this new subgenre reality.  And on some days I will explore those questions, and on others I will simply rescue the dragon in distress from the firebreathing maiden.

And so on.

Because each genre presents its own distinctive possibilities for ethical exploration and metaphor as well as conventions for playing with magic and mystery.

Over the past two decades, most of the people with whom I have been part of the "roleplaying" movement (as we called it back in the 1980s) have claimed to come to feel similarly, though I often end up the game master because most of them have difficulty balancing both aspects.

So I suspect that, yes, I enjoy both simulationism and narrativism in the same campaign, and since I've known and read many others who have held this up as an ideal, I wonder that it seems so odd and that so few have done it.

But then, I am old enough to recall when a geek was someone who not only watched SF/fantasy films but also read SF/fantasy literature, read philosophy both modern and ancient, studied both science and the humanities, and explored even the arts and music -- Star Wars, yes, but also Asimov, Lem, Wichtenstein, Aristotle, Bohr, Jung, Thoreau, Emerson, Picasso, Robert Johnson, etc.

Doctor Xero
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: June 22, 2004, 06:08:47 AM »

Hello,

Backing up a post or two, Doc X, you wrote,

Quote
I have been told that my grounding in genre means I run only simulationist campaigns.


Not by me, nor by anyone who should feel proud of telling you any such thiing. Armchair diagnosis of others' play is bullshit. And furthermore, a lot of snap "oh that's Sim" responses, even from people who should know better, are assuming that the play is coherent enough even to gain a single descriptive term.

So I suggest that the power of the phrase you're reacting to is so weak that you are wasting effort even to take it into account when reflecting on your play-experiences.

Best,
Ron
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