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Author Topic: Narrativist question  (Read 11913 times)
Valamir
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« Reply #15 on: September 27, 2005, 03:24:43 PM »

This is a great discussion.

To emphasize Mike's last point you don't have to be conciously aware of addressing Premise when you do it.  The idea that you have to be has led to some misconceptions that playing in a Nar fashion makes it difficult to stay in character ('cuz you're always worrying about the premise stuff instead of just playing my guy), so its important to remember that it doesn't require concious effort to do.

That said it does require a certain mindfulness or what I've called "playing on purpose" because Elliot is absolutely right, simply making the choice by accident with no awareness of "whoa I just made an impactful statement" at all is not playing Nar...its just a happy accident.

This state of being mindful without needing to be actively concious is difficult to describe.  Its kind of like "spidey sense"...even when you're not really trying you just get this little nudge that whispers...hey, important decision coming up.  It really isn't that hard to develop.  Once you're aware of what premise is and what thematically charged decisions look like it becomes second nature to pick them out.  Kind of like when you buy a new car and immediately you start seeing cars like yours everywhere...not because there are suddenly that many more cars like yours on the road, but simply because now you're attuned to notice them...
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Neil the Wimp
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« Reply #16 on: October 07, 2005, 02:10:22 AM »

To emphasize Mike's last point you don't have to be conciously aware of addressing Premise when you do it.  <snip>

This state of being mindful without needing to be actively concious is difficult to describe.  Its kind of like "spidey sense"...even when you're not really trying you just get this little nudge that whispers...hey, important decision coming up.  It really isn't that hard to develop.  Once you're aware of what premise is and what thematically charged decisions look like it becomes second nature to pick them out. 

This is the point of incomprehension for me.  If a Narr game is about addressing (a particular) Premise, how can that happen without anyone thinking about the Premise?  Is it enough for the players/GM to state to each other, explicitly or implicitly, what the 'interesting' decision points should be? 

Neil.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #17 on: October 07, 2005, 06:04:30 AM »

Actually I'd used mindful to avoid using the term conscious. But that's probably confusing, too. Lets do an example, instead:

Here's the situation - the party has just killed off a warren of kobolds that have been plaguing a village that hired them to take care of the problem. They bust into the last part of the lair only to find that it's the kobold nursery with itty bitty kobolds running around frightened. The larges of these come running up and try to bite the PCs on the ankles and such, but don't have much success as it's like a schnauser trying to get through their chainmail.

Player A looks at the situation, and decides to kill the kobolds.

Player B looks at the situation, and decides to kill the kobolds.

They're playing the same way, right? Well not neccessarily. See, this is what most people don't get about mode of play. It can be completely hidden from view. In fact, ask the participants why they did what they did, and they may not even be able to answer the question. But that doesn't mean that the players are making the decisions in the same way. It just means we can't tell. The processes involved are going on so quickly or on some level that we're not really all that aware of what we're doing.

But we're doing it. And over time, over lots of decisions, this will tend to come out. Now, if you never, ever get more information about why the players are making their decisions, you simply can't tell mode, and, most importantly, if you can't tell it, it's not important. In fact, by some definitions this is simulationism. An apparent inability to discern player motive in the decision-making process. Though if the motive to hide motive shows, then we can discern simulationism. If you get what I'm saying.

Narrativism or Gamism will only show over time if/when players do or say things that are "tells," player actions that give away their motive. Again, that doesn't mean that they don't have the motives if tells do not occur. Simply that we can't discern what mode is going on.

So back to the example, let's say that player A follows killing the kobolds with: "Well, they weren't worth any experience points alive!" And a big satisfied grin as he records the EXP and obviously is comtemplating leveling up.

Player B follows the killing with: "Well, they had no parents anymore and would, at best, have lived a life of slavery had they been brought back." And he actually asks the DM if he can refuse to take the EXP.

Well, now we're seeing evidence, strong evidence, of mode here. Note that it's not absolutely conclusive in two ways. First, sometimes players front a mode to hide another. Player B might, knowing that he's not going to be allowed to give the EXP back, really just be playing up an in-game rationalization for the action, when, in fact, he really killed the baby kobolds for the EXP. Note that he could have taken the kobolds in, and raised them as his own or something, had he really wanted to "prove" that he was not about the EXP in this case. Not that one couldn't honestly kill the kobolds as a way to create theme. Just that you never know.

More importantly, however, this is just one bit of evidence in the whole chain of tells that you have to observe about all of RPG play in order to determine mode. Does he jump for joy later when he levels up? Does he guiltlessly buy new feats that make him even better at baby-kobold slaying? Or does he decide to take the character in a new direction?

It's this overall analysis that determines mode. The discussion of premise and theme, merely is about naming the phenomena that are observable when narrativism is happening. That is, at the point of asking the question "Do you kill the baby kobolds or not?" we still don't really have a premise. It's only a premise when a player decides to accept it as such. If he answers the question as Player A does, then there is no premise, just a player challenge to over come (and one with a very obvious answer if the challenge is about leveling up - though there are other sorts of gamism I should add). If, however, we see that the player is giving the question some sort of value-based judgment, player-based judgment, then it's a premise. When he makes his decision, that decision is the theme created.

It doesn't matter precisely how aware we are of it. We might talk about it to death in very clinical technical terms afterwards. Or it might be just barely on the periphery of our awareness. But we have to be noting it. Because, again, sans noting it, it's not mode its just indeterminate underlying motives. Mode is only what's discernable behavior (because conflict between the modes can't arise if nobody is seeing them). And only behavior over time. One act does not make a mode discernable - though it can make you suspicious if it's, say, as over the top as the Player A example. 

Note also that I say that it's "player-based" judgment. This is complex. If, in fact, the player is trying only to portray character motives, then, in fact, it's not a premise, and the theme being created is the simulationist sort. What we have to discern is player concern. The decision has to be difficult or interesting to the player to portray, not to the character. Now, that interestingly doesn't mean that the player has to project his feelings onto the character. No, the player can feel that it's bad to kill the kobolds, and have the character do it anyhow, because it's reasonable for the character to do that. As long as he does this, and we know that it's distasteful to the player, then theme is created.

"I really hate to have Ragnar do this, but given his practical nature, he's going to have to kill the kobolds. Ew." That's a narrativism tell (again evidence in the chain, not proof). "Ragnar is really practical, so he kills them." That's a simulationism tell, or, at least, a much less strong narrativism tell. We can't be as sure which is happening, the player deciding to do "what the character would do" or the player deciding to select the option from amongs the various plausible "what the character would do" options that is the most emotionally engaging to him.

(My Beeg Horseshoe version argues that he's always emotionally engaged, it's just a matter of how hidden it is, highly hidden being simulationism).

Mode is not a matter of players doing clean cut easy to discern things. The examples I give are typically stilted so that we can see easy to discern versions, and extrapolate what are harder to discern versions. People learning that tells can be individually confusing often despair at this point that mode will never be discernable. And, in some rare cases it is really hard to discern. But generally, if you watch play overall, and take in all of the evidence from all of the play, it's actually far easier than most people imagine. Gamism and narrativism are so far apart aesthetically, that they just can't help but show over time what they are. Simulationism is a bit more muddy, but if you find that you're not able to see the other two, you probably have sim.

Does that help at all? Narrativism is not a technique. It's not something that people say, "Hey, let's play narrativism-wise, and throw some premises out there. It's just like all other RPG play, and what's more, you've seen players do it. Heck, you may be doing it yourself. It's simply making decisions based on values instead of on tactics. All the rest of the terminology is just so we can better understand the underlying mechanics of it's elements so that we can design games to better support one or another mode. Yes, knowing about mode can help players make play more coherent, too. And there are techniques that you can use to help support it. But you can have a narrativism agenda without any of that. Most people who have a narrativism agenda don't do anything special. Narrativism is not some special "Forge" sort of play, it's found everywhere all the time.

Mike
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Neil the Wimp
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« Reply #18 on: October 11, 2005, 01:38:36 AM »

Thanks for the full reply.  I think I understand what you're saying.

First, you're saying that GNS split is entirely based on the player's motivation for making decisions and, therefore, need not be revealed to anyone else (though that's unlikely in practice).

Second, you're saying that the hallmark of narrativist play is that the player gets to make value-based choices on behalf of their character.  But who's values are being used?  I'm beginning to loose the distinction I had between narrativism and immersion (and this is probably a good thing if it leads to me rebuilding this distinction in another place).

Note also that I say that it's "player-based" judgment. This is complex. If, in fact, the player is trying only to portray character motives, then, in fact, it's not a premise, and the theme being created is the simulationist sort. What we have to discern is player concern. The decision has to be difficult or interesting to the player to portray, not to the character. Now, that interestingly doesn't mean that the player has to project his feelings onto the character. No, the player can feel that it's bad to kill the kobolds, and have the character do it anyhow, because it's reasonable for the character to do that. As long as he does this, and we know that it's distasteful to the player, then theme is created.

"I really hate to have Ragnar do this, but given his practical nature, he's going to have to kill the kobolds. Ew." That's a narrativism tell (again evidence in the chain, not proof). "Ragnar is really practical, so he kills them." That's a simulationism tell, or, at least, a much less strong narrativism tell. We can't be as sure which is happening, the player deciding to do "what the character would do" or the player deciding to select the option from amongs the various plausible "what the character would do" options that is the most emotionally engaging to him.

To check what you're saying: if the player is emotionally involved in the decisions, it's narrativism; if the player is not emotionally involved, it's simulationism.

Does that help at all? Narrativism is not a technique. ... It's simply making decisions based on values instead of on tactics.

But where does that leave immersion?  What if I, as a player, decide to adopt the values of my character while I'm playing him?  In that way, the emotions I feel are the same as the character, and the value judgements made are as close in flavour and result to what that character, if he were real, would make.   Does this become simulationism or narrativism?



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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #19 on: October 11, 2005, 08:02:31 AM »

Emotion is problematic here. People can get very excited about how "real" the world seems or other such simulationism stuff. They can get excited about making decisions that are "correct" for the character. Narrativism isn't just emotion about the decision, but having emotion because the decision has a value quality to it. Instead of a versimilitude quality, or a tactical quality. Note that when I say something like the last sentence, you're having a tendency to jump on that as definitive. You simply can't be definitive about mode with punchy phrasing, it's just more complicated than that.

As far as "who's values are being used" narrativism is about the player's values. I tried to make this clear, but it's complicated. All modes are, in fact, about how players are making decisions, characters don't exist to make decisions. They can only seem to be making decisions. The question of immersion is irrellevant. You can assign your character values that you have, or you can assign him values that you don't have. Or you can empathize with your characters values, even if they're not ones you normally have. None of that matters. All that matters is that you're basing the decision of what to have your character do on what would be interesting to you.

Note that doesn't mean having the character do what you would do. That is, when watching a movie, have you ever admired a villain? You find his dastardly plot entertaining, you love to hate him. You can do the same thing with a PC, potentially. You can have the character do something you would never do, just to explore how you feel about him doing that.

Immersion is a problematic term, but to the extent that it means "getting into the character such that I'm making decisions like he would, if he existed" then that may well be simulationism. Because you're trying to bury any appearance of your player motives and pretend like there is some character who exists who's motives you're accurately emulating. Sim is a lot about developing that sort of versimilitude.

Because narrativism does mean that player motive has to be shared between players to some extent to be an agenda. That may seem contradictory to what I've said above, but it's not. Sharing these value assessments can be very subtle. You make a decision not to kill the baby kobolds, and another player sees you smiling about it, and smiles back understanding what you're doing. Right there you've created both the premise and the theme in just a smile. It can be even more subtle than that, with the other players just knowing that you're making decisions this way, and simply allowing it to happen.

But, if truely the other players don't see at all that the decisions you're making are based in any way on your own value judgments about what's cool to have happen in play, then there is no narrativism agenda. This is either Zilchplay, if no mode can be discerned at all, or simulationism.

Now, I personally posit that nobody plays sans personal values being involved in decision making, even the mostly deeply "immersed" player is just using a complex "channeling" method to bring his own desires out (the channeling process being part of the fun of it). I think that it's just a question of the level to which these things become unseen because of the specific techniques being used to create simulationism. But that's a whole 'nother issue.

Mike
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Neil the Wimp
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« Reply #20 on: October 12, 2005, 05:40:52 AM »

Thanks again for the explanation.  I think I understand what you're saying.  If decisions are made because they're interesting to the player, that's narrativism.  The reason why they're interesting is labelled premise.   The sharing of the player's motivation is required because it allows the other players to help create situations that allow further examination of the premise. 

Is that right?

Neil.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #21 on: October 12, 2005, 05:52:57 AM »

Hi Neil,

Unfortunately, you've provided a perfect general summary of the term "Creative Agenda," not of the sub-set term Narrativism.

It may be a good example of "say it yourself," if by interesting, you mean "what interests me," and if what interests you happens to involve stuff like Premise and generating themes during play itself.

My take, at this point, is that you would do well to examine the first set of terms presented in the Glossary, which do not include Gamism, Simulationism, or Narrativism, and learn how those terms are related and what they mean for role-playing.

Best,
Ron
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Frank T
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« Reply #22 on: October 12, 2005, 08:35:23 AM »

Please pardon this semi-rant-y statement:

If I'm to explain Narrativism to people nowadays, first thing I tell them is "forget about premise". The concept of this "question answered through play" is just confusing people. It's like over-analyzing literature, which doesn't have much in common with reading. And it's something people focus on so much that they don't listen to anything else you say.

I really like Mike's wording of "revealing a character through play". That is, imho, much closer to what people are actually doing in Narrativist play.

- Frank
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #23 on: October 12, 2005, 08:39:47 AM »

Hi Frank,

That works if you play with the people you're talking to and recognize that, for them, "revealing" a character is creating themes.

But that is not the case if the person simply likes to "act like" the character and spends the whole evening doing so, while cooperating with whatever story another person is dictating to them (subtly or unsubtly). This person will also say they are "revealing" the character.

The problem you're facing is discussing what it is as opposed to what it feels like. "Address Premise" is the very best language for and description of what it is. But what it feels like is a completely different issue, highly specific to that person and their various experiences and idioms of play.

I carry out dialogues based on "what it feels like" in the Actual Play forum and by private email and through face-to-face conversation. I don't write essays about it, and I don't suggest using anything in my essays to support such conversations. My essays are strictly about what it is.

Best,
Ron
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Frank T
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« Reply #24 on: October 12, 2005, 09:03:59 AM »

Fair enough.

- Frank
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #25 on: October 12, 2005, 11:04:51 AM »

I use "revealing a character," because that's typically how bangs produce theme when thrown at characters, and people can relate to what I mean in the phrase. But Ron is right, I don't mean revealing the character in terms of his effectiveness as a tool, or revealing how accurate he is to the setting or something like this, but showing something about the character that says something about the player's value interest (non-tactical, non-simulative interest). Fortunately people reading the phrase usually get the right idea, so I don't have to clarify. But I admit that it might be misconstrued in certain circumstances.

Further, there are other ways to create theme that are unrelated. A GM can narrate a scene in which a bus hits a businessman who just made an unethical deal to create a theme of "That's what you get..." This doesn't reveal anything about the business man, or the world even really. But it is the participant creating a theme.

So it's not that bangs that reveal somthing about a character is the only way to create theme. It's just one effective one.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #26 on: October 12, 2005, 02:15:06 PM »

Hello,

You know, the thread originator hasn't weighed in for a long time. I think this thread's purpose is achieved, or I hope so, anyway.

All the posting has been useful and constructive, so thanks, everyone. Let's close it now.

Best,
Ron
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Bastoche
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« Reply #27 on: October 13, 2005, 05:06:16 AM »

Fun you say that. I though I was through but I just want to comment on the distinction between "playing the character right" as in sim play vs "revealing the character" as put by Mike.

IMO, it seems more natural to anyone who never experienced (i.e. played) a RPG before to "reveal the character" than to "play it right". And I think that's why most if not all players generally have fond memories of their first gaming session. They felt it rather than faked. At least I think that's how my wife "feels" the difference between playing with the 3E D&D GM we have now and her then 2E AD&D GM she had before. In 3E, she unconsciously "feel" the difference between the "accepted/conscious" gamists play vs the undefined CA they had using 2E rules.

I get the feeling that gaming groups that start playing without any "guru" showing them how to play naturally tend to a "narrativistier" kind of play. Once they understand the rules (at least in my case), the gamists in us kicks in, as long as the rules support it.

BTW I've been playing for about 15 years (I was about 13 at the time). I played a homebrew as my first game. I heard of it but didn't have rules so I made them up. There was no rules. 2 players would "narrate a story" in turn but with one player being the protagonist and the other being the referee. No preparation, it was improvised as it went. Then I play "L'oeil noir". It was from the guys who wrote the books with choices, don't know the name in english "Livres dont VOUS êtes le héro". And then I was introduced to AD&D 2E. Then in college, I played with old folks who were still playing 1E. In the meaning time I played some white wolf games, shadowrun and 1E Middle earth RPG. I played 3E since it came out until I vomited it all over myself ;)
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Sebastien
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #28 on: October 13, 2005, 05:40:29 AM »

Hello,

Excellent. All of those points should be considered very carefully by all readers, especially considering your role-playing history. All discussion of those points should be taken to new threads, especially in the Actual Play forum.

You will find games like Sorcerer, Dust Devils, and Dogs in the Vineyard very, very interesting, and I recommend them to you.

Best,
Ron
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Bastoche
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« Reply #29 on: October 13, 2005, 05:55:42 AM »

You will find games like Sorcerer, Dust Devils, and Dogs in the Vineyard very, very interesting, and I recommend them to you.

I know ;)
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Sebastien
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