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Gamism: Exploration of conflict & Address of conflict

Started by Callan S., July 26, 2005, 12:50:09 AM

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Callan S.

Exploration of conflict: The process of finding the solution to a problem, the solution being amongst the game systems rules or within the described game world.

Address of conflict: Creating, from whole cloth, that solution.

An example of creating a conflict: The GM decides there is a trap with two knobs protruding from a metal box. The left one is connected directly to some explosives. If the right one is pulled a nearby door opens.
An address of conflict: The GM decides that one of the knobs has the fingerprints of people on it, while the other is clean except for a little dust on top.

Proposed dysfunction: The GM describes the situation. The player declares they will carefully prize open the front of the metal box and look inside, to see what each knob is connected to and that this will tell them which is the right one to pull.

This thread proposes a dysfunction here, because both the player AND the GM have made an address of conflict. The dysfunction coming from the RP tradition that one of them is superior to the other. That one of them is the right answer and there is someone who is fit to judge which one is right.

Let's look further into the idea that no one is fit to judge which is superior or right. This probably sounds absurd; gamism is all about peer judgement/evaluation, isn't it? But clearly, to judge (as GM) someone else address you'll have to make your own address to gauge it by. If (as GM) you say their address just wouldn't work in the game world, what if the situation was suddenly reversed? Where you become the player and they the GM (with the same situation)...and suddenly your address of conflict 'just doesn't work in the game world'. How do you feel now that the address you were so certain of before, gets put in the 'doesn't work' box? How do you think the player felt before, when his address was treated the same way?

I'm going to suggest that address of conflict actually needs to be treated in the same way as address of premise. In that, there is no 'correct' answer.

This sounds like the absolute antithesis of gamism, doesn't it? If any answer is correct, then the player will just give any old answer and where's the challenge there? Well, let's have a look at narrativism. Does it suffer from that same problem? That if any response is valid, players just give bland, boring responces? Well from what I see, narrativism seems to promote escalation of the problem in response to this.

For example, a player is going to get into a situation where they have to decide if they kill their evil half brother. But the situation is a bit straight forward so some other cruel  player might add a fact that the evil brother protects a town of innocent people. If he dies, they will loose their protection and suffer. Thus, any answer is right, but the player will sweat even more over his address. The cruel player isn't making any answer the right one, but he is escalating the problem to new heights of difficulty.

Gamism can often does go through the same process. See Erick Wujcik's diceless essay, where his thief attempts to disable traps through sheer negotiation that no doubt involved plenty of escalation. Indeed, gamists are so robust that where a narrativist would feel force applied to his address, the gamist usually just sees more pressure being applied, more factors to think about. When his told his address doesn't work, he'll look at it in the same way as in the above example, where a player added the 'evil brother protects other people' fact. If the address doesn't work, there must be a reason it doesn't work and he needs to think out his address even more. More pressure, good!

Or the gamist cracks, just like a narrativist facing typhoid mary treatment will crack. This is NOT the frustration of something like not being able to complete a crossword, which is an exploration of conflict frustration and is (although infuriating) very healthy. Instead this is exactly the sort of frustration a narrativist will feel if the GM has already made an address of premise for the character and is now waiting for the player to second guess and ape it.

Even in a social contract where players are expected only to explore conflict, in standard systems dysfunction arrises easily as the GM (in prepping the game) will make some addresses of conflict himself. Except the GM should be fair and even and make sure each solution is suitable to the wits of the players. Otherwise it screws up the game and you can't have that! Can you imagine a narrativist thinking "Well, my character would just have to do X! Oh wait, that'll screw up the game so he can't do that.". That would be the narrativist feeling the touch of force again and they'd be pretty annoyed! And in the same way, the gamist GM is suffering from this. He has made his address of conflict, but then has to beat it up to fit the needs of an ongoing game. That's either not very fun or the GM doesn't adjust his address and it can indeed lead to a dead game. Of course for narrativism, a lot of indie games seem to ensure that play continues in some way, no matter what the address of premise. What's out there now to ensure play in not interrupted no matter the GM's address of conflict, for this type of gamism?

I'd argue this is a common ideal of gamism. It essentially represents gamist immersion, in where a player is so immersed in the way the game works that his own address of conflict miraculously matches the game designers address and/or matches the GM's address. At the same time the player really only has the rights to explore conflict, so even though he's making an address of conflict it can still be fully rejected. However, the gamist is tempted to strive for those sweet, sweet times when they make an address of conflict and-it-works! Despite the crushing blow of their previous intelligent solutions getting rejected, when an address of theirs does match the designers/GM's address it's a high affirmation!! This isn't a moment where people just appreciate my solution! This is where I really got it right!

Which is a little delusional. After all, why is the designers/GM address of conflict right? So right that it makes your address right when they match? Really, the joy of this moment is the same as when a narrativist makes an address of premise, and everyone nods thoughtfully and absorbs it. It wasn't that your address is 'right', it's that others treated it with respect and absorbed it. That's the best you can hope for, unless in some very strange circumstances you come across the problem in real life and have a chance to try out that solution. That's the only time you'll find out how right the solution is. Otherwise what your aiming for is respect for your address, and only escalation from other players rather than their judgement as to whether it's right or wrong.
Philosopher Gamer

Callan S.

I would have thought drawing a parralel between address of premise and gamism (ie, address of conflict) would have sparked debate. But instead I'm pleasantly surprised at the silent affirmation I'm getting, since no one's arguing with it. :)

Here's a question though: Could you take a system that's designed to promotes address of premise, and reword it (but not change its structure) so it promotes address of conflict instead?

Another question: If the rules of a game don't accomidate address of conflict, does that make it a boardgame?
Philosopher Gamer

Ron Edwards


I agree with all of your points and claims in full.

However, your terminology mods are driving me bonkers. Here's how I'd do it.

Premise mirrors Challenge.

Address of Premise mirrors Address of Challenge.

Force interferes with Address of Premise. "X" interferes with Address of Challenge.

I really like your insights about how "X" is expressed as a pre-fixed, non-negotiable way to solve the problem. I also think it's distasteful in Gamist play not only because there's "one way to do it," but also because if you find that one way, you get through the situation "free." Gamist play thrives on costs, just like Narrativist play does.

I really, really think "conflict" is a poor word choice because it's so easily confounded with so many other things, ranging among:

- a sense of emotional and creative betrayal among actual people
- a set of risks to characters which threaten, effectively, removal of the ongoing chance to play those characters
- situational expressions of Premise (this is the Lit 101 sense)
- differing fictional interests among the fictional characters (similar to the above but not identical)
- tactical and strategic circumstances that allow for many options


Ben Lehman

I find this thread fascinating.

It seems to me that the X which interferes with Gamism is, essentially, the "point and click" problem from the old adventure games.  When you can't figure out the programmer's solution, you would just click randomly around the screen until something happened.


Callan S.

I happily concede to Ron's change of terminology, as I have zero commitment to using the word 'conflict' and much commitment to clarity on the issue.

In terms of 'X', I think it's also interesting that it's almost always someone elses (the GM's usually) address of challenge. Since he doesn't want to back down on his own address, it really reinforces that 'one way to do it' thing.

QuoteI also think it's distasteful in Gamist play not only because there's "one way to do it," but also because if you find that one way, you get through the situation "free." Gamist play thrives on costs, just like Narrativist play does.
"I hate getting out of things free. Yet at the same time I really respect my address of challenge. I don't want to just talk my way out of the challenge, but damn my address is so good it should crack this challenge!". Just articulating a long time issue of my own in regards to two opposing desires, for any thoughts people have.
Philosopher Gamer

David Bapst

Quote from: Callan S. on July 27, 2005, 04:23:58 AM
Another question: If the rules of a game don't accomidate address of conflict, does that make it a boardgame?

That's a question that I pondered for the longest while when I designed a game that consisted of a Gamist combat system I really enjoyed playing. My playtests consisted of nothing more than a series of battles, none of them really showing any color or much exploration of any element but System. Thus, solutions to the conflicts were never really improvised or created "from whole cloth." They weren't mindless, they just didn't really bother to deal with anything but tactical options that existed entirely on the System level with little dependence on any SIS other than the idea that the characters were all standing around killing a monster.

I'm still not certain if I'd somehow started off wanting to make an RPG about combat and ended up with a boardgame about combat, but I'm not certain the difference is important.


I'm tackling that same question regarding RPG/board games with Power/Evil, and I'm not sure yet what the answer is. There can be mechanisms to promote narration, for example, and consistent stories, but I think it's still an area that very much needs to be explored. The current revision of P/E also includes a mechanism for required narration that's judged by the other players, but the bonus of which cannot be denied, i.e., you try until you find something that the group agrees is cool.

As for the initial post, I do agree that it sucks when the solution to the challenge is already determined before play. My question is, can we balance being open to that because we give judgment powers to the GM with giving the player all the power? What's the middle ground, if there is one? Decision of the of the group as I do above? Primetime Adventures' Fanmail or TSoY's Gift of Dice to reward the Stepping On Up?

Callan S.

Hi David and Christian,

It's an interesting question. For example, the card game 'Lunch Money' has a move in it called power play. The rules for it actively encourage the player to describe the nasty move their doing to the other player. It's a bit tricky to pull off a power play, so when you do one you tend not to 'waste it' on a move that isn't interesting to you. However, regardless of the description you do the damage, there is no feedback from anyone else. For me, this lead to a 'trademark move' syndrome, where I described a move, then kept using it for every latter power play, as their was nothing to prompt me to make up a new one (and I liked my move, so why change?).

I think that is an address of challenge, prompted by what would seem to just be a traditional card game design.

However, the call to make an address doesn't come very often and when it does, there is no mechanic to prompt a new address, rather than repeating the previous address.

A gamist RPG could be said to specialise in having lots and lots of addresses of challenge. I think a game like snakes and ladders, has zero potential for an address. While a game like lunch money has infrequent address potential. Gamist RPG's are only different from lunch money in that they should contain frequent to high frequency potential for address of challenge to be made by a player. Otherwise lunch money and a gamist RPG are on the same scale, even if they are at different ends of that scale.
Philosopher Gamer


I have real trouble figuring out what to say here - at times agreeing and at times disagreeing.

I don't think there is an inherent problem with single-solution games.  If that is the game at hand, then what matters is the elan and vigour with which the solution is pursued.  There is no need here for a more open game IMO.  That said, it is the nature of games to be limited, and therefore implicitly restricted.  I assume that this is the problem being referred to as "getting through it for free"... as in perhaps I play chess and have the enemy king assassinated obviating the actual boardgame.  But IMO this is a pretty much inescapable problem.  A game is a subset of all interactions, it cannot be universally comprehensive.  And worse, there is no real need for a totally comprehensive game.  Chess is a (highly abstracted) game about field battles; it is not a game about assassinations.

This necessary element of rule-boundedness is missed in the discussion of Open types of gaming, IMO.  You can play a kind of free kriegspiel but there must still be rule bounded limits - the edge of the map, the forces available.  But you can create a experience which feels very free as long as those limits can be made to appear natural, to coincide with rational limits, or to simply be quite remote so the boundary's don't intrude in actual play.
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

Callan S.

Hi Contra,

I think the problem here is assuming free narration means being able to determine cause AND effect. Or at least narrate a cause and by making it compelling enough, ensure the desired effect does come about (eg, an assasinated king). It reminds me of my posts about pushing a vase off a balcony. Would it break? It's pretty compelling that it would.

However, let's look at the lunch money example. Power play does 3 damage. And it encourages you to narrate the move. Now, I'd never actually though of narrating my opponents death before during the game. But the thing is, I can narrate cutting off my opponents head still just does 3 damage (and my opponent, if he still has HP, just kicks me in the head despite my narration). Indeed, my narration not taking just three damage into account is a failure on my part in giving a fitting narration (I loose some gamist respect for this, in other words).

With the vase and the balcony...surely if you push it, it has to fall. And if I describe cutting off my opponents head in a really compelling way (ie, it's just as likely to happen as that vase smashing), then surely that opponent is dead.

I think gamism suffers from old sim habits, where cause determines effect. I think rather than a protective GM, watching carefully and weeding out addresses that wont make a good game, a fixed effect is determined. This effect is like a trophy, and the address of challenge is the play that earns it. Then add some escalation mechanics (which I'm talking about in the theory split off and more than one address is needed to get that trophy.

So if the king is walking underneath a balcony, but the effect/trophy is fixed at a hurt king, you don't use the sheer compellingness of a falling vase to kill the king off before the sport warrants. But you did just hurt a king with a vase, nice move!
Philosopher Gamer


I'm not entirely clear why we are discussing narration per se so intently, but there is another way to use the technique.  Once upon a time I managed to get a character summarily slain by the GM, but was allowed to "talk my way out of it" if I came up with a good story/rationalisation before the end of the session.

Now this is not narration as right as right; this is narration as duty.  Its similar to the lunch money example except that in lunch money there is no authority deciding that your narration is good enough or otherwise.  In this structure, the effect is established systematically, and the cause subsequently rationalised.
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

Callan S.

I think we need to clarify what is meant by narration. It might seem were just discussing narration, stuff like describing how pretty the clouds are in the game world. But when it comes to an address of premise, you just narrate that, right? Yet that sort of narration gets alot of attention, theory wise. And it's alot different from just describing some clouds. The narration for address of challenge is as different from cloud narration as the address of premise narration is different from it. The problem may be this: For address of premise, if you don't value the other persons address of premise, it's no different from cloud narration to you. The same goes for address of don't value it as such an address, it just looks like alot of emphasis on cloud narration.

Your example is similar, in that the survival state is preset and the cause is yet to be determined. However, the words "if I came up with a good story/rationalisation", particularly the word 'good', means it's a "don't make your own address, guess/explore for my address of challenge instead and I will allow your PC's survival".
Philosopher Gamer

Callan S.

From Are these two things incompatible?
Quote from: Tony
Quote from: SeanI once used a lowly Pyrotechnics spell to escape from Asmodeus' throne room, which was anti-magicked against spells 3rd level and up, but not against 1st and 2nd level spells, by making a big cloud of smoke and running.

Except (and I really don't want to undercut the wonderful memory of your foiling Asmodeus with a mere cloud of smoke) all of that works only, and exactly, when the GM allows it to work.  There are no rules either forbidding or denying Asmodeus to see through smoke... or, more likely (I don't remember all that well) there are many, many rules that show that Asmodeus absolutely would see through the smoke, and the GM seamlessly ignored those rules in favor of your creativity.

So it seems to me that what you're asking is "How do I get that thrilling feeling of having my ideas validated by the GM, who judges whether they're worthy of success, in a game where the GM has his own agenda?"  Does that sound just about right?

Okay, I'm nicking a post of Tony's from the other thread, to look at some further issues.

Okay, now since nar address mirrors gamist address, let's look at the above as if it were referring to a narrativist game. Essentially it would be saying "You only got to make that address because the GM let it stand (by deciding not to apply force to it to change it)". The implication being that if the address of premise was judged to be poor, the GM could apply force in the interests of a better game.

Now, I've done this in terms of narrativism. For over a decade I applied force to my own addresses in the interest of a better game (mostly as GM), because I thought that was the way to GET the address absorbed for what it is ( Here's the actual play post ). When the fact is, the other person is either open to accepting the address or they aren't. You could possibly make them open to accepting a nar address by manufacturing a "cool" one to draw them in. But then your undercutting your own agenda by applying force to your address, in the interests of a better/more exciting story. Really you can only flat out, directly ask them to appreciate a nar address and if they are inclined/capable, they may choose to do so. If they do, then you go and do some narrativism.

Fact was though, for over a decade, I saw it all as a challenge to "get" them to absorb my narrativist address of premise/address premise themselves. It seemed like a challenge and it was very, very hard to resist trying to beat it, because of that.

Now, let's turn back to gamism, which is all about beating challenges. Tony's words are what I would have written myself for, oh, the last decade and a bit? Ominous, eh?

Now Tony might have taken this somewhere else, but what I'm looking currently reflects a lot of gamist culture. A culture where you "convince" the GM/fellow players to absorb your address of premise. But really, the GM could just say no/change it in the interests of a better story. And THE perceived challenge is to convince him to absorb your address of challenge, by having a really cool address that would stop him doing that (which, err, of course might mean applying force to your own address in the interests of a better story).

Gamisms biggest challenge may be to let go of challenge. This particular 'challenge'. Because it is killing your gamist agenda. You will NEVER reliably step on up and face peer judgement of your address, if you are hiding behind what you think the GM/other players like. Rarely you'll get that "thrilling feeling" when your address is absorbed for what it is, by mere chance. But the rest of the time your just exploring whatever other players think is a good address, and hiding your own true address from them. Or worse, making your address in a system that actively works against your agenda. Force does not equal challenge. Perhaps we've had too many years of simulationists trying to crush gamists out with force, to see it as anything else but THE challenge.

The fact is, the "wonderful memory" Tony refers to, contains the peer appreciation which is THE challenge. Facing that peer appreciation (whether it results in a wonderful memory or not, what's important is that you faced it!). If you make an address which awes your fellow players, but the GM declares "Uhh, no, uhh, you just die", do you give a crap about the GM's judgement? Would your fellow players? I doubt it, in future they'd talk about being in awe of you, not the GM's call on it. So what's really important is the awe of your fellow players, right? So why have any emphasis on judgement from the GM?

Because fighting against force is a hard challenge to give up.

But really that's because the reward is so sweet...your address of challenge being absorbed for what it really is. Can a gamist just take on the idea of just having his address absorbed, without having to somehow 'earn' that? Possibly not. But he can earn it through far less self destructive methods, like earning through the solid mechanics of a game, the right to make an address of challenge that will be heard for what it is. But this is drifting toward the theory threads territory :
Philosopher Gamer


You're drawing two extreme viewpoints clearly:
  • You can force somebody to accept your address of premise/challenge, no matter how hard they kick and scream
  • You can't influence anyone to accept your address of premise/challenge, no matter how hard you kick and scream.

But aren't you excluding the middle?  In most cases, you don't have either 100% control or 0% control... you have, maybe, 20% give or take.  Which isn't everything, but isn't nothing either.  Where does that fit?
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Callan S.

Hi Tony,

The hurdle to over come here is 'I need to have control of the game/what other people think, in order to make an address of challenge'

The middle ground is not about control at all.  It's that everyone else at the table don't have to agree with the address, just absorb the address. That's it.

Sadly the last thirty years of design seem to revolve around the idea that everyone has to agree with an address, for it to remain part of play. Can you imagine narrativist play where everyone had to agree with your address, for it to be part of play? And if they don't agree, it gets chucked and you have to make another one till you get it right? That's either sim or typhoid mary syndrome.

The problem has been that when others disagreed with an address, someone via control of the rules (usually the GM's) would get the address got turfed. This leads to the conclusion that if you want to make an address of challenge, you need to get that control. Which is a valid conclusion with this set up. If you don't have control, the address gets swept away and no one will absorb it.

But what actually needs to be enabled is disagreement without the removal of the address. Otherwise there is no way to challenge the perceptions of other players. You can say the world is round, but if that address is swept aside, then all those flat world thinkers are never going to have to deal with the idea of a round world. If the round world idea is kept in play, they can disagree all they like, as long as they aren't allowed to just dismiss the idea by having it swept out of sight and out of mind.

The big issue with gamism seems to be "But that'll just lead to dumb addresses of challenge being in play if no force can be employed."
To which I hold up the narrativist mirror:
"Just like an address of premise that suffers no force, leads to dumb addresses of premise being in play"

The only time it'll lead to dysfunctional addresses are from people who don't give a fuck about the agenda.
Philosopher Gamer