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Author Topic: On RPGs and Text [LONG]  (Read 48710 times)
clehrich
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« Reply #75 on: December 12, 2004, 10:17:20 AM »

Quote from: Michael Brazier
Quote from: clehrich
If your aesthetic standards are about narrative, yes, it's a failure.  But that's precisely the point: the aesthetic criteria of myth have nothing to do with narrative.  They have to do with the adequation of form to content to exterior constraints.
I suspect we are now in violent agreement.  Would you accept this as a paraphrase of your point: a myth is judged, in the society from which it came, not as an invention of the teller, but as a hypothesis about the real world; its value is its significance as a discovery, not its structure as an artifact?
Quote from: To which Ian
Hmmm. I'm kind of curious about Chris's response at this point, because if that's true I've been significantly misunderstanding things. I thought the whole point was that the value was derived from the structure -- that the value was in recognising, confirming and reinforcing the structural relationships between things.
Let me step sideways for just a second.  There's an old theory of aesthetics, which I first read about in F.W.J. Schelling but which I think is a good deal older, which says that aesthetic value is best judged by a precise adequation of form to content.  Slavoj Zizek has a funny example, where he points out that the alien in the film "Alien" is a sort of anti-aesthetic, thus horror: its content is outside its form (the exoskeleton, the ooze, the externalized second jaw, etc.).  But so you'd say, for example, that Michelangelo's Pieta is brilliant because it goes a little outside the boundaries of what is accepted for the form -- which matches the fact that for Michelangelo's culture, this isn't a death scene but rather the death scene.  Its content is larger than the form permits, and therefore he constructs the thing to break the traditional formal edges.

Now Levi-Strauss would, I think, be interested in several dimensions of this example.  First, we have the whole issue of form and content.  Second, there is the point that the form is a culturally constructed structure, which is deployed in a semi-traditional way.  Third, the content is again culturally understood and known.  But what Michelangelo "discovers" is that the content is too great for the form, and by expressing it so he says something extraordinary about both the form and the content.  In a sense, Michelangelo has done nothing new here.  Everything that constitutes the pieta is completely traditional, and there are a zillion pietas around from that period.  But at the same time, he has perfected the possibilities of the genre in the same moment as he has shattered them.

Myth too can be understood to have these aesthetic criteria of adequation of form to content.  The content, the "what is said" in the myth, at some level contributes to a totalizing sense of what the universe is and means.  The form, that in which this is said and negotiated, borrows its structures from the cultural world.  Thus aesthetic perfection in myth consists in the construction of the desired effect or message in such a way as to demonstrate the complete sufficiency of the cultural system to handle anything at all.

For example, we've said that the Hidatsa could have chosen any polluting element to effect the meeting of spheres, sky and underground, and thus catch eagles.  But by choosing menstrual blood, they stack up an additional vast system of meanings, specifically a number of sexual meanings, in such a way that this also matches exactly what is desired -- i.e. eagles.  And this creates, out of completely traditional objects (wolverine, blood, rabbit, eagle, etc.) and traditional structures (how hunting works, how sex works, etc.) not only an effective system (it gets eagles) but also one that connects this desired effect to many other systems, confirming them in the process.

But it should be borne in mind that I, like Levi-Strauss, accept also the possibility of aesthetic criteria in things like engineering.  There, the point is (for example) perfect efficiency at low cost, in a highly durable and preferably easily handled form.  We don't want a lot of extraneous systems; we want exactly and only what is needed to accomplish the desired end.  In computer coding, similarly, you want to achieve the desired ends while using as little memory as possible, preferably in a program that runs very fast.  So you avoid any sort of waste or excess.  For Levi-Strauss, this means that the engineer/programmer/etc. starts with principles and manipulates them to create the desired effect as efficiently and gracefully as possible.  A perfect marriage of form and function, as they say, would then include no excess or waste.

The bricoleur myth-maker, however, doesn't work this way.  He starts with the objects he already has, not with principles.  And for him, it's the levels of interrelated meaning that are most interesting.  So it may well be that you can achieve the desired end with any of the following four objects -- blood, excrement, menstrual blood, toenail parings -- but the thing is that menstrual blood carries a hell of a lot more excess baggage, and if we can get that baggage to support the desired end, demonstrating a kind of subtle homology between eagle hunting and sex, then menstrual blood is a cooler thing to use.  In effect, the ideal mythic process would draw on absolutely everything in the entire known universe and set it all to work achieving one end.  That's impossible, of course, because the universe is just too damn big and these tribal people pay insanely close attention to very fine details, but that's a sort of hypothetical ideal.

I talked about the aesthetics in that long post on page 2, using the music analogy.  The claim is that by doing this kind of work, the natives transform the entire universe around them into a vast symphony of perfectly harmonized elements.  It is true that doing this is a way of finding things out about the world, but as I say, the point isn't really primarily practical; practically speaking, the engineer's approach is probably more effective.  It is also true that this process can often produce practical results, because that much scrupulous attention to every detail of the world around one and that much tinkering with meaning and interrelation will most certainly generate practical knowledge.  But the real point is to make the objects of the world have cohesive meaning, to tie them all together into an intellectually and aesthetically satisfying web of interrelations, not unlike language or music.  Nature itself doesn't really work that way, or at least, it doesn't work that way at a macroscopic level.  By the procedures of mythical thought, however, we can make nature have meaning, and make that meaning fully human and satisfying.

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Quote from: clehrich
But what makes that not art?  Is it impossible for an art form to be inquiry in a narrative form?
If there is no invention, no work of construction, involved in an endeavor, its result cannot, I think, be called "art".  And in an inquiry, no matter what medium or form one uses, one wants as little invention as possible.  Any structure in the final product that is not an image of the thing one was examining, is a mistake.  So, if myth is an inquiry in narrative, it isn't art, because inquiry in general should not be art; it's a category error to judge inquiry as if it were art.  (And isn't that part of Levi-Strauss' point?  That ethnographers before him treated the myths they recorded as stories, that is as artworks, and thus misjudged them completely?)
As in the Michelangelo example, it really depends on what you mean by "invention"; he certainly invented something new, but not a single element in the Pieta is new.  As to inquiry, I don't know why we wouldn't want invention in any medium; surely the whole point of inquiry is to find something new?  If you mean that we don't want invention but rather discovery, I'm not at all convinced that these are completely at odds; Einstein's discovery of relativity certainly also had an element of invention, of creating something new.  As to Levi-Strauss's point, the problem is that ethnographers tended to judge myths by a set of aesthetic standards and criteria inappropriate to the form, because imposed from literature and the like.  Thus they missed what the form is and how it works, and were unable to see either the aesthetic or the intellectual criteria of value operative among the people who tell myth.

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Quote from: clehrich
I don't agree about the nature of detail in Sim, in the sense that I don't see Sim mechanics and game-world design as equivalent to an intricate poetics and so forth.  I do agree that much of Sim would like to claim that it does what it does for no reason other than the activity itself, but I also think this is not actually true.  It's part of the ideology of Simulationist play.
That's a highly debatable proposition -- it means, after all, that Sim players are basically mistaken about what they think they're doing.  So why do you think this?
Well, I'll point you back to the exchange Christopher K. and I had on pages 3-4 of this thread.  Yes, I do think that Sim players are, as a rule, basically mistaken about what they're doing.  As one example among many, there's what Ron calls the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast, which is a rhetoric and conception endemic to Sim games.  In many respects, I'd argue that this constant misconception about what Sim gaming is and is about prompted Ron's "GNS and Other Matters" in the first place: folks were thinking that they wanted to play Sim games, but they were unhappy with the games they played, and they constantly went around in circles seeking Sim games that would "get it right"; Ron's point, I think, was that maybe they didn't really want Sim at all, but rather Nar or Gam, and if they could come to clarity on what they wanted, they'd be happier gamers.  As a related point, I'd in that sense agree with Ron (writing in the "Right To Dream" essay) that "It's a hard realization: devoted Simulationist play is a fringe interest. It is not the baseline or core of role-playing...."

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Also, in what way -- other than the difference of medium -- does Sim differ from a play of Oscar Wilde?  Or a Marx Brothers film, another of my examples?
On Oscar Wilde, the primary difference it seems to me is that myth is not art for art's sake; it's art that is highly functional, and for which in fact some of the aesthetic standards are functional ones.  As to the Marx Brothers, I'm not quite sure what you mean to point to with the example; again, my sense is that those films are pretty much entertainment (art) for its own sake, whereas myths have a deep functional dimension.
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Chris Lehrich
contracycle
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« Reply #76 on: December 13, 2004, 01:39:50 AM »

Quote
The bricoleur myth-maker, however, doesn't work this way. He starts with the objects he already has, not with principles. And for him, it's the levels of interrelated meaning that are most interesting. So it may well be that you can achieve the desired end with any of the following four objects -- blood, excrement, menstrual blood, toenail parings -- but the thing is that menstrual blood carries a hell of a lot more excess baggage, and if we can get that baggage to support the desired end, demonstrating a kind of subtle homology between eagle hunting and sex, then menstrual blood is a cooler thing to use. In effect, the ideal mythic process would draw on absolutely everything in the entire known universe and set it all to work achieving one end. That's impossible, of course, because the universe is just too damn big and these tribal people pay insanely close attention to very fine details, but that's a sort of hypothetical ideal.


Hmm, I'm not so sure I see the distinction as that large.  That is, a theory is good to the extent it explains not just this issue here, but also has implications that explain other isssues.  At the very least, it must not be contradicted by any existing known thing.  Surely the ideal scientific process would also "draw on absolutely everything in the entire known universe and set it all to work achieving one end."
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Rob Carriere
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« Reply #77 on: December 13, 2004, 04:48:32 AM »

Quote from: Michael Brazier
If there is no invention, no work of construction, involved in an endeavor, its result cannot, I think, be called "art".  And in an inquiry, no matter what medium or form one uses, one wants as little invention as possible.  Any structure in the final product that is not an image of the thing one was examining, is a mistake.
If I understand this right, you are presupposing that not only there exists an absolutely truth, but that we are capable of observing that truth with absolute objectivity. Without that supposition, invention in an inquiry is not mistake, but necessity.

If you take the position that objective observation is impossible (or take the position that objective truth is impossible) then all inquiries as well as their results are needs be artifacts, and therefore potentially art.
SR
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #78 on: December 13, 2004, 06:39:11 AM »

Quote
Quote from: clehrich
Mike,

You've completely lost me.  I don't get what you're saying.
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Chris, again, it's the point that when put to task that "morally and ethically and emotionally" didn't stand up. It became "that thing that Ron is talking about that he doesn't have a term for." Which I think is Myth per your definitions.
Okay, but I think Ron does think that this moral/ethical/emotional dimension is central to Narrativist play.  Now, are you saying that Narrativism does not have this dimension?  Forget about story for the moment.  Is Nar play focused on this sort of thematic issue?  My understanding is that it is, and Sim isn't.  Since myth isn't either, I'm not seeing the link you're making.


If you look back at the descriptions that Ron gives of what it is that "Premise" means as locally defined, he starts by saying it's a moral question. And then people questioned that statemtent, and he backed off to "moral or ethical." People questioned that, and he backed off to "emotionally engaging." People said, "But gamism is emotionally engaging." In the narrativism essay, Ron neatly sidesteps the issue, by using the term theme, and saying simply that premises are the questions that when answered produce theme. But then he's altering the definition of theme from Egri to start as well. So that's almost tautological. In the essay it's about "value-judgements" or even more vaugely, a "point."

So "Premise" at that point became like Obscenity is to the Supreme Court - something without a definition, but Ron knows it when he sees it. Yes, this really is the state of narrativism.

To whit, instead of defining it, Ron has instead taken to relying on people making their own restatement of what premise is to understand it. That is, he's come to understand that his definitions do not suffice for most people, and that the only way that they can come to grips with this is for the individual to restate it in his or her own words. This is even in the essay.

How like myth as defined by Levi-Straus is that?

I've personally often used the term "meaning" as in "giving something a narrativism context means that the decision made will have meaning." Which doesn't suffice, because, of course, simulationism also has it's own sort of meaning, and what's more meaningful than the personal accomplishment of gamism? So it's a poor term, but it drives on something. That goal is what you said the goal of myth is above - to make sense of the world.

Simulationism is concerned with the "otherworld" (to use Stafford's term) of the RPG to have a feeling of "realness" for the player. To the extent that this is a part of the ritual required to produce myth that "sticks" with the soul of the person playing, it could be a requirement, I don't know. But the "explanation" provided by the myth seems distinctly the narrativism part of play.

Heck, if I wanted to get really out there, I've often said in an uncomfortably half-joking way, that I think that Greg Stafford believes that the scenarios he writes are actually heroquests that the players go on to forge myths. I think Greg has a unique insight into Levi-Strauss's concept of what myth is about, as I believe that he experiences it on a day-to-day basis as a practicing shaman (just talk to the man for ten minutes, and you'll know what I mean).

The "self-referential" part of it is that the characters in Hero Quest go on heroquests to "change" myth. The interesting thing about this is that myth in the game exists in a state of no-time. So you aren't ever really changing myth, you're just becoming a part of it in your telling of the myth. I think this is just Greg's way of getting we, the modern western reader, to come to grips with what myth is. And some people don't get it, by the way; I've been confused by it quite a bit myself at times.

I don't think that it's any mistake that I, Ron, and others associate Hero Quest with narrativism. Or that Hero Quest is about myth. Is it a perfect treatise? No, it's got huge gaping holes in it. But I do think that Myth is what narrativism is about.

Mike
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ethan_greer
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« Reply #79 on: December 13, 2004, 08:49:59 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
But then you're using Myth locally like we used to use story, Ethan. Meaning that it loses a lot of usefulness as a term.

I think I see the point you're making, but I don't see it quite that way. I think what we're doing is searching for the "It" of role-playing - what it's about, what it produces, what it is. Story was proposed and fell short. Myth seems closer to the mark for me. So, yes, I'm using Myth locally - but that's sort of the point. It loses usefulness as a term to distinguish the different CA, but that's not what I'm going for. I could be misreading what you mean by "locally" though.

For what it's worth, I think I agree with you that Nar play attempts to produce Myth. I also agree with Chris that Sim play attempts to produce Myth. (And that's a fascinating proposal about Sim, by the way.) I'm thinking about Gamism, but I'm not sure about it yet.

Here's the thing: I think that role-playing (Nar and Sim, at least) is about producing Myth - I think Myth is the motivating factor that drives people to participate in the activity. But I think the Myth produced is like a terrarium. From inside (i.e. during play among the participants), the Myth is functional and meaningful. From outside, the Myth is observable but inaccessible and ultimately unable to fulfill any useful purpose to the observer. It's like trying to evaluate the Bororo myth.

It's play-Myth. Or, better yet, a role-playing group effectively becomes a micro-culture in which (and only in which) the resulting Myth is functional and meaningful.

In effect, in order to understand role-playing you have to do it. Only then are you tapped in to the Myth as part of that micro-culture.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #80 on: December 13, 2004, 08:54:27 AM »

I can see some serious support for that in the phenomenon of trying to explain a story from the game to someone who wasn't there, even another roleplayer who knows the genre and system very well.

I always have this constant barrage of "Oh, but I have to explain this first!" moments as my literature-wired, analytic brain tries to chop off one little bit of the sticky, interconnected morass of the game.
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clehrich
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« Reply #81 on: December 13, 2004, 10:51:06 AM »

Quote from: contracycle
Hmm, I'm not so sure I see the distinction as that large.  That is, a theory is good to the extent it explains not just this issue here, but also has implications that explain other isssues.  At the very least, it must not be contradicted by any existing known thing.  Surely the ideal scientific process would also "draw on absolutely everything in the entire known universe and set it all to work achieving one end."
We're right on the cusp of this subtle but I think very important distinction.  Let me put it this way.  Scientific work starts with rules, theory, and whatnot, moves down to things in the actual world, and then comes back up to more theory.  Thus the underlined part of your remark: what makes scientific explanation really valuable, its ultimate criterion of interest, is the implications for a larger range of questions.  This isn't about an explanation's validity, which just has to do with the explanation of the thing itself, but of its value, which is the implications for more theory.

As Levi-Strauss describes it, mythic thought works exactly the opposite way.  It starts with things, moves up to theory and rules, and then moves back to things in the end.  So the validity of the myth, we might say, is again the adequation of theory to object.  But the larger value, which is mostly aesthetic rather than practical, is the other things manipulated in the process.  The goal isn't, you might say, to explain anything (since the whole process presumes that explanation is possible without significant change to the system) but to connect things satisfyingly.

I do think there is a real difference here, but I always have a lot of trouble explaining how it works.  Hope this version helped a bit.

It might be worth pointing out, though, that I agree with Derrida's assessment: the scientist/engineer who does things differently is only another myth created by the bricoleur.  But let's please not go there.
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Chris Lehrich
clehrich
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« Reply #82 on: December 13, 2004, 11:04:28 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
If you look back at the descriptions that Ron gives of what it is that "Premise" means as locally defined, he starts by saying it's a moral question. And then people questioned that statemtent, and ....

So "Premise" at that point became like Obscenity is to the Supreme Court - something without a definition, but Ron knows it when he sees it. Yes, this really is the state of narrativism.
I'd really like to hear what Ron has to say on this one.  You're much better read on this issue than I am, having been following it all from the start.  I guess I had thought that premise or the like was pretty solidly established in the theory.  Interesting.  This should probably go off and be its own thread, though, because it seems to me that the implication is that Narrativism is not particularly distinguished from Simulationism at all.
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I've personally often used the term "meaning" as in "giving something a narrativism context means that the decision made will have meaning." Which doesn't suffice, because, of course, simulationism also has it's own sort of meaning, and what's more meaningful than the personal accomplishment of gamism? So it's a poor term, but it drives on something. That goal is what you said the goal of myth is above - to make sense of the world.
If so, then you're right -- Narrativism would be very much comparable to myth.  But it seems to me that this would be the case because Narrativism is Simulationism wearing a funny hat.
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Simulationism is concerned with the "otherworld" (to use Stafford's term) of the RPG to have a feeling of "realness" for the player. To the extent that this is a part of the ritual required to produce myth that "sticks" with the soul of the person playing, it could be a requirement, I don't know. But the "explanation" provided by the myth seems distinctly the narrativism part of play.
Now this part I don't get.  You're making a subtle distinction here and I'm not quite following it.  It seems to me as though these two things are very tightly bound together: the explanation is what validates the system that describes the world, so explanation builds realness prompts explanation and so on.  For me, that was why I thought Sim was the obvious analogy, since as you say the reality of the otherworld is very much the point.  But as I see it, any myth necessarily asserts the validity of the culture that produces it, which in RPG terms means that any effective gameplay necessarily builds the reality of the otherworld by legitimating our understanding of it.  Something like that, anyway.  I thought this was the point of Sim, but not so much of Nar; by your argument, I think, the explaining and the realness are in effect simply preferential strategies that get labeled as Nar and Sim, respectively, but really they're the same process and ultimately produce the same thing -- which is to say myth.
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I don't think that it's any mistake that I, Ron, and others associate Hero Quest with narrativism. Or that Hero Quest is about myth. Is it a perfect treatise? No, it's got huge gaping holes in it. But I do think that Myth is what narrativism is about.
Would you agree with Ethan, then, that myth is what RPGs are about?
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Chris Lehrich
clehrich
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« Reply #83 on: December 13, 2004, 11:15:16 AM »

Quote from: ethan_greer
I think I see the point you're [Mike] making, but I don't see it quite that way. I think what we're doing is searching for the "It" of role-playing - what it's about, what it produces, what it is. Story was proposed and fell short. Myth seems closer to the mark for me. So, yes, I'm using Myth locally - but that's sort of the point. It loses usefulness as a term to distinguish the different CA, but that's not what I'm going for. I could be misreading what you mean by "locally" though.
I may also be misreading what both of you mean by "locally."  If I understand you, you're arguing that myth is useful for understanding gaming in general, not for distinguishing CAs.  If that's your argument, I think you're right.  My initial proposal was that Sim is especially about myth, where Nar and Gam are to a significant degree also doing something else.  I suppose that's sort of like the Horseshoe theory: Sim is the mythic baseline, and then Nar and Gam spin off of that to add a further dimension.  Thus at that level I suppose it would be best to say that what Ron calls Exploration is myth, but that doesn't seem to match what he has in mind.  Am I getting you right, though?
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Here's the thing: I think that role-playing (Nar and Sim, at least) is about producing Myth - I think Myth is the motivating factor that drives people to participate in the activity. But I think the Myth produced is like a terrarium. From inside (i.e. during play among the participants), the Myth is functional and meaningful. From outside, the Myth is observable but inaccessible and ultimately unable to fulfill any useful purpose to the observer. It's like trying to evaluate the Bororo myth.
I am increasingly in agreement with you, and I suspect that Gamism is also part of this but I don't know how.  I do think that the terrarium analogy is a good one, but I think that this is not particularly the case with the Bororo material (for example).  It seems to me that the terrarium is very much what distinguishes RPGs from myth as it is practiced/told/constructed among tribal peoples.  RPGs first construct the terrarium, a closed space that is asserted to be different from the rest of the world, and then they myth-make within that, in the process actually drawing from lots of things outside the terrarium but pretending not to.  Myth among tribal peoples doesn't do this: part of the point is to assert that there is no terrarium, and that everything is part of the system.
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Or, better yet, a role-playing group effectively becomes a micro-culture in which (and only in which) the resulting Myth is functional and meaningful.
Yes, I completely agree with this.  Which is also why I think RPGs lend themselves to subculture identification and the like.
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In effect, in order to understand role-playing you have to do it. Only then are you tapped in to the Myth as part of that micro-culture.
This I don't agree with, actually.  I think one can analyze these myths from the outside, but first one has to get clear on what the process is -- which is all this stuff about myth and so on.  Once you have that in hand, I don't see why you can't analyze RPGs the same way an anthropologist can analyze a tribal culture.  Certainly it can't be done without a lot of work and a lot of encounters -- you can't do it just by reading about it -- but I don't see that RPGs are in principle so difficult to analyze.
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Chris Lehrich
ethan_greer
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« Reply #84 on: December 13, 2004, 11:38:46 AM »

Quote from: clehrich
Quote from: ethan_greer
I think I see the point you're [Mike] making, but I don't see it quite that way. I think what we're doing is searching for the "It" of role-playing - what it's about, what it produces, what it is. Story was proposed and fell short. Myth seems closer to the mark for me. So, yes, I'm using Myth locally - but that's sort of the point. It loses usefulness as a term to distinguish the different CA, but that's not what I'm going for. I could be misreading what you mean by "locally" though.
I may also be misreading what both of you mean by "locally."  If I understand you, you're arguing that myth is useful for understanding gaming in general, not for distinguishing CAs.  If that's your argument, I think you're right.  My initial proposal was that Sim is especially about myth, where Nar and Gam are to a significant degree also doing something else.  I suppose that's sort of like the Horseshoe theory: Sim is the mythic baseline, and then Nar and Gam spin off of that to add a further dimension.  Thus at that level I suppose it would be best to say that what Ron calls Exploration is myth, but that doesn't seem to match what he has in mind.  Am I getting you right, though?

Yes, you're getting me right. And on reflection, I'm not sure if I know what "locally" means, either. Mike?

Quote from: clehrich
Quote
In effect, in order to understand role-playing you have to do it. Only then are you tapped in to the Myth as part of that micro-culture.
This I don't agree with, actually.  I think one can analyze these myths from the outside, but first one has to get clear on what the process is -- which is all this stuff about myth and so on.  Once you have that in hand, I don't see why you can't analyze RPGs the same way an anthropologist can analyze a tribal culture.  Certainly it can't be done without a lot of work and a lot of encounters -- you can't do it just by reading about it -- but I don't see that RPGs are in principle so difficult to analyze.

Sure you can analyze it. But you won't be able to understand what role-playing is really like based on that analysis, in the same way you can't know what being a Bororo is like based on analysis of their myths. You'd have to go and live with the tribe, learn the language, etc. It's the difference between theory and practice.

That's what I meant by "understand" in the quote above. Maybe I should have said "grok." :)
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clehrich
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« Reply #85 on: December 13, 2004, 11:47:33 AM »

Quote from: ethan_greer
Sure you can analyze it. But you won't be able to understand what role-playing is really like based on that analysis, in the same way you can't know what being a Bororo is like based on analysis of their myths. You'd have to go and live with the tribe, learn the language, etc. It's the difference between theory and practice.

That's what I meant by "understand" in the quote above. Maybe I should have said "grok." :)
Oh, I see.  Yes, I suppose that is true.  But conversely, I also think that understanding what gaming is really like isn't all that difficult -- it's not really all that alien or different.  So for example, I think that a thick description (a la Clifford Geertz) of gaming would actually go a long way toward a deep understanding of RPGs from an outside perspective, because you'd be able to tie so much of it to things that are completely familiar about American (or wherever) culture.

I think we're pretty much in agreement on this one.
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Chris Lehrich
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #86 on: December 13, 2004, 12:22:31 PM »

Quote from: clehrich
I'd really like to hear what Ron has to say on this one.
I really would too. It may well be that no matter how well read I am that this has all be clarified at some point, and that I'm merely filling in a gap in my own knowledge with something plausible.

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This should probably go off and be its own thread, though, because it seems to me that the implication is that Narrativism is not particularly distinguished from Simulationism at all.
I completely disagree. Even with the "hazyness" I percieve in the definition of narrativism, I still "get it" and don't see any confusion between the two modes. But that's not really the topic.

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If so, then you're right -- Narrativism would be very much comparable to myth.  But it seems to me that this would be the case because Narrativism is Simulationism wearing a funny hat.
Not getting your argument. Sounds like:

1. Sim gets Myth.
2. Nar gets Myth.
3. Therefore sim and nar are the same.

I'd disagree with assumption number 1 first, but even if not the logic is incorrect.

1. Trees need water
2. Chris needs water
3. Therefore Chis is a tree.

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It seems to me as though these two things are very tightly bound together: the explanation is what validates the system that describes the world, so explanation builds realness prompts explanation and so on.
Well, they're both required, yes. But that's saying that all RPGs require exploration. The question is, when it comes to a point where you have to choose between whether to make the player feel that the process of myth creation is "real" or whether or not to get an "explanation" this is where the two modes break with each other.

Put another way, for sim players all the explanations come from the GM generally, since to have somthing else means that they are creating the myths themselves, which takes away that special value that they have over just any old everday explanation of something. For narrativism, story now becomes "myth now," meaning that the player creates the meaning of the myth, as often as the GM does.

Again, there's that level of self-referentiality there.

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For me, that was why I thought Sim was the obvious analogy, since as you say the reality of the otherworld is very much the point.  But as I see it, any myth necessarily asserts the validity of the culture that produces it, which in RPG terms means that any effective gameplay necessarily builds the reality of the otherworld by legitimating our understanding of it.  Something like that, anyway.  
Sure, but where's the meaning? Sim is about the player acting in a way to create the validity, not the myth itself. The GM creates the Myth with sim.

Um, sim is leader lead myth production, and nar is collaborative myth production. Which is the real method ala Levi-Strauss? Sounds like the latter to me.

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Would you agree with Ethan, then, that myth is what RPGs are about?
No, I think that's going too far. The fuzzy area of gamism aside, I think that some players play completely divorced from the attempt to create such meaning. A theoretical form of play exists where the players really only want to experience a valid atlternate reality, which might have no "mythic" quality at all (and it's a form of sim). Just to start. Then there's the social aspect which can serve all manner of functions outside of meaning production as has been discussed. I'm sure there's more.

Mike
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clehrich
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« Reply #87 on: December 13, 2004, 01:00:32 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
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If so, then you're right -- Narrativism would be very much comparable to myth.  But it seems to me that this would be the case because Narrativism is Simulationism wearing a funny hat.
Not getting your argument. Sounds like:

1. Sim gets Myth.
2. Nar gets Myth.
3. Therefore sim and nar are the same.
Not quite what I meant, but I see that actually I was misunderstanding the distinction you see between Sim and Nar, so we can set this one aside.
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It seems to me as though these two things are very tightly bound together: the explanation is what validates the system that describes the world, so explanation builds realness prompts explanation and so on.
Well, they're both required, yes. But that's saying that all RPGs require exploration. The question is, when it comes to a point where you have to choose between whether to make the player feel that the process of myth creation is "real" or whether or not to get an "explanation" this is where the two modes break with each other.
See, to me these things really are very much the same.  If I construct a myth, it has to do something (or I would just be repeating, not constructing) and it has to validate the cultural system (or I would be incoherent).  But the thing is, in order for the myth to explain anything it has to validate the cultural system, because that's where it draws its explanation structures from, and in order for the myth to validate the cultural system, it has to explain something.  It sounds to me as though you're asserting that there is a kind of priority or preference here, where some people in a sense pay more attention to the explanations and other pay more attention to the legitimation, and there are probably others -- and these preferences would be CAs.  Something like that?
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Put another way, for sim players all the explanations come from the GM generally, since to have somthing else means that they are creating the myths themselves, which takes away that special value that they have over just any old everday explanation of something. For narrativism, story now becomes "myth now," meaning that the player creates the meaning of the myth, as often as the GM does.
Here is where I disagreement comes from, I think.  I think in Sim the myth-making can only be validated by reference to known structures, such as mechanics and the game-world and the source material.  What you cannot do is create new stuff like this.  But the thing is, this is how myth works anyway: you can't create new plants and animals, you can only work with what you have, and furthermore the structures are those of the culture.  That's why myth tends to validate cultural norms: it naturally tends to "prove" that the cultural norms are perfectly in tune with the natural world.  It seems to me that in Nar, you draw on additional constraints to the kinds of explanations and meanings you want to generate.  In Sim, the only absolute constraint is that you cannot add new things to the game-universe, which I think is why Sim players are often so adamantly opposed to meta-gaming and Director Stance and such: it seems like you're adding material and violating the constraint.
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For me, that was why I thought Sim was the obvious analogy, since as you say the reality of the otherworld is very much the point.  But as I see it, any myth necessarily asserts the validity of the culture that produces it, which in RPG terms means that any effective gameplay necessarily builds the reality of the otherworld by legitimating our understanding of it.  Something like that, anyway.  
Sure, but where's the meaning? Sim is about the player acting in a way to create the validity, not the myth itself. The GM creates the Myth with sim.
Well, what do you mean by "meaning" here?  See, in Nar I think this is an aesthetic constraint added more or less up front, things like Premise or Story or whatever.  In Sim, the meaning is the game-world, and thus the construction of myth in Sim is precisely about building reality and validating it.
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Um, sim is leader lead myth production, and nar is collaborative myth production. Which is the real method ala Levi-Strauss? Sounds like the latter to me.
The thing is, I don't agree that meaning in Sim is created by the GM; it seems to me that if that were true, Sim would be entirely a William Shatner "welcome to my world" thing, and I don't think that's the case.  It seems to me that the encounter with the otherworld, and the enrichment and deepening of it, happens by telling stories (in a loose sense) that validate how that otherworld works and its comprehensive totality.  So I'd see both as collaborative.
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... I think that some players play completely divorced from the attempt to create such meaning. A theoretical form of play exists where the players really only want to experience a valid atlternate reality, which might have no "mythic" quality at all (and it's a form of sim). Just to start. Then there's the social aspect which can serve all manner of functions outside of meaning production as has been discussed. I'm sure there's more.
But to me, both of these are creations of meaning.  Unless we're talking about Walt's notion of "zilchplay," I think that actively experiencing a valid alternate reality requires that the players act to validate that reality.  Until they do so, it's not valid at all; it's only some guy's construct.  And so the process of play, which works to legitimate that this is a valid alternate reality is the construction of meaning.

Look at it like this.  The natural world doesn't have meaning in itself; we have to put meaning there.  That's part of what people do, and one of the ways we can do this is through myth.  And what ends up happening is that you explain that the natural world is the way it is for good reasons that are really about you and your culture.  Everything "out there" becomes "in here," known and controllable.  And the more you can populate the world with that sort of meaning, the more it validates your cultural system because it says, in effect, "Look, we can handle anything, and the way the whole world works proves that our culture is right."

In Sim, it seems to me that we're presented with a similar situation: a setting, some source material of whatever kind, and some mechanics.  But none of that means anything; it's all potential.  So then we go and interact with the world and demonstrate, through use of stories and mechanics and whatnot, that the game-world is indeed meaningful.  And that seems to me extremely similar to the imputation of meaning to plants and animals and weather and whatnot, which is what myth is about.
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Chris Lehrich
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« Reply #88 on: December 13, 2004, 01:29:03 PM »

I think we're meaning two different things when we say Myth, Mike. I think this because your arguments about Sim and Nar don't make any sense to me. Total left field here. It's rather disconcerting.

Here's what I mean when I talk about Myth: Myth is an underlying cultural phenomenon. Its purpose is the communication and sharing of abstract cultural ideas. Its importance is diminished, has diminished, with the advent of text and the birth of a text-based society. Role-playing hearkens back to the time before text, when Myth was how we discovered, processed, understood, and internalized culture and one's identity within a culture. People perceive this more basic means of communication at a level that approaches unconsious; they've been doing it since before they knew words. The role-player, intrigued by the hobby's outward appearances or expressed concepts, tries it out and is moved by the experience of role-playing beyond any considerations of "let's pretend" or "let's tell a story together." That's Myth. If I had to place Myth somewhere in the Big Model, I wouldn't. I'd put it outside Social Contract.

Of course, it's possible I'm going on a metaphysical bender.

So, in that light, I make the following observations (which are invalidated if we're talking about different things):

Of course a Sim player is creating Myth - he/she is in the terrarium (from my post above). There's as much Myth creation in a single instance of a player's Pawn Stance as there is in all of a Sim GM's behind-the-screen machinations. It's not about explanations or validity, it's about taking part in a process, a "system" if you will, whose byproduct is Myth, or an attempt at it.

The concept of "Myth Now" is also very problematic for the same reasons - Myth is a much bigger factor in the process of role-playing than "Story Now," which is merely a factor of one of the Creative Agendas.
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #89 on: December 13, 2004, 01:30:40 PM »

Quote from: clerich
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I've personally often used the term "meaning" as in "giving something a narrativism context means that the decision made will have meaning." Which doesn't suffice, because, of course, simulationism also has it's own sort of meaning, and what's more meaningful than the personal accomplishment of gamism? So it's a poor term, but it drives on something. That goal is what you said the goal of myth is above - to make sense of the world.
If so, then you're right -- Narrativism would be very much comparable to myth.  But it seems to me that this would be the case because Narrativism is Simulationism wearing a funny hat.


I haven't properly kept up with this thread. Chris, I'm not sure what you mean in that Simulationism seems to be comparable to myth (as you're using it), while Narrativism not comparable, or at least not as comparable. But that's an aside.

I found Mike's language here to be extremely useful to me in acknowledging the difference between Simulationism and Narrativism.

Like Mike, I've wrestled with the term "meaningful." I like the term when describing Narrativism, but it doesn't quite cinch it. Gamism can be meaningful, as can Simulationism.

But, I have read Mike as saying the meaning in Narrativism is in making sense of the real world, to us the humans. By comparison, meaning in Simulationism is making sense of the imagined world. Of course, we might strive to do both in both Agendas, but the emphasis remains. In Narrativism, we're emphasizing results meaningful to our real, human lives. In Simulationism, we're emphasizing results meaningful to our explored, shared environment.

Mike, is that a correct reading of your language? If not, you've inadvertently helped me out! I find it helpful to understanding the distinction among agendas. Thanks either way!


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Now this part I don't get.  You're making a subtle distinction here and I'm not quite following it.  It seems to me as though these two things are very tightly bound together: the explanation is what validates the system that describes the world, so explanation builds realness prompts explanation and so on.  For me, that was why I thought Sim was the obvious analogy, since as you say the reality of the otherworld is very much the point.  But as I see it, any myth necessarily asserts the validity of the culture that produces it, which in RPG terms means that any effective gameplay necessarily builds the reality of the otherworld by legitimating our understanding of it.  Something like that, anyway.  I thought this was the point of Sim, but not so much of Nar; by your argument, I think, the explaining and the realness are in effect simply preferential strategies that get labeled as Nar and Sim, respectively, but really they're the same process and ultimately produce the same thing -- which is to say myth.


Chris, I apologize for not reading your thoughts in this thread more carefully. I have the interest, but not the time lately! I can't decipher what you mean here, and I'm lost as to the how you found (but perhaps no longer do?) Simulation more ... relevant (?)  than other modes as it relates to myth. I don't understand, for example, how Simulationism accomplishes what you describe above in a way that other agendas do not. My uninformed position says, "Hmm, sounds like just ol' Exploration to me, so myth is applicable to all agendas here. Neat!" Indeed, that seems to be what you're getting 'round to thinking, maybe?

I found Mike's posts helpful in this thread. I rather like the comparison to myth, the notion that RPGs create myth. I think it's a fine way of expressing what has long remained "that unamable thing" that RPGs produce or share like no other media.
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Matt Snyder
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