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The State of GNS: A Rant

Started by Jason Lee, November 18, 2005, 06:01:58 PM

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Jason Lee

I decided to post this in a new topic instead of in its parent thread The Secret of Sim.  This is a rant, directed at no one in particular, even though I quote John at the beginning...

Quote from: talysman on November 18, 2005, 08:55:58 AMI disagree with this. I think M. J. is correct when he says that Discovery, The Dream, Fidelity, Celebration, Exploration Squared and other propositions on what Sim is are all attempts to phrase one common idea that Ron, Mike, Vincent, and others all understand but can't quite find a way of phrasing with the same "Aha!" quality that we see in defining Gamism around Step On Up or Narrativism around Story Now.

I'm honestly a confused by this.  Does it really seem like Ron/Vincent, Mike, and M.J. all agree on Sim?  That different definitions are the same definition?  That everyone who gets it agrees, but they are just too dumb to figure out how to say it in like, what, 7 years of discussion on the topic? 

I personally don't feel Sim is fixable.  I think it's a fundamentally flawed concept and no amount of tweaking is going to fix it.  I think if you strip all those technical agendas like bricolage, objective world description, channeling, and genre emulation from Sim you have nothing left except perhaps discovery, which I don't feel connects well with the technical agendas and sensations people associate with Sim.  I think those logical flaws are just things that need to be accepted if people want to move on to game design.  Yes, it's broke.  So what?  It's as good as it's going to get.  I mean, if you don't expect 7 (or however many) years of tweaking D&D for Nar play to result in the best possible game, why do you expect more from GDS?

But my views on Sim don't matter, because the point I'm trying to make here is purely logical.  To point out that there are definitions of Sim that are the same, like exalting the fiction and the dream, and definitions that are not the same, like the dream and discovery.  Understanding Sim isn't just about understand the "it", whatever that is, but understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the various definitions, the history of the term, the ideological and social camps on the Forge, and how that all affects dialogue on the topic. 

The problem with Sim isn't really that people don't "get" what play-styles people are referring to, but that it has logical flaws in relation to the Big Model.  It really has nothing to do with role-playing.  The model could be about different types of beanie baby collectors and Sim would still be just as flawed.  The term itself is fractured and overloaded enough at this point that it's completely useless.  Discussion about the associated play-styles will always break down into a definitional debate unless a definition, however flawed, is decided upon.  Because of my personal views on the inherently flawed nature of Sim, and given that Ron seems pretty burnt out on the topic, I would choose the essay definition rather than face another storm of threads on the matter which will ultimately lead to a new definition that is just as flawed.  Put that big red stamp on the essays that says "Final Version".  GNS did its part.  It ate its sprouts and grew up into the Big Model.  If I was Ron, which I'm really really not, I would just want to be finished working on GNS so I could move on to more important things.  That means deciding to be done.  Saying "This is a good painting.  I think I'd like to do another", instead of spending twenty years shading tree leaves on your one masterpiece.

If you (plural) are tired of the definitional debate, then I think it's time to accept your triumvirate isn't going to be a perfect description of the universe and move the hell on.
- Cruciel

Matt Snyder

My observation about the long, ugly history of arguments about what Sim is is the result of an understandable historical error. One that only very recently has Ron, at least, clarified.

Ron recently pointed (And now I can't find where he did it. Ron?) out that he has significantly narrowed his definition of Simulationism. It is, in my words, celebration and affirmation of some scheme. His words are different, but I believe very strong that we agree fully on the agenda. I also believe, but am less certain, that Vincent Baker agrees with us. I can't speak to others' understandings at all, really.

In short, I believe Ron has limited considerably what he would call functional simulationism. Whereas he previously termed a broad grouping of actual play types as Simulationism, how now terms those as dysfunctional, problematic play. For example, "Zilch play" was originally posed and conceived as vaguely theoretical idea, and Ron voiced that he did not think it was common, if even possible. He has since said it is far more widespread than he believed. Other dysfunctional play, for example Ouigi Board Role Playing and others, also fill the gap of what Ron no longer defines as Simulationism.

I believe Ron's words are that Simulation is getting out of a game what you put into it. That is, if you pump in the tropes of Star Trek, you should get Star Trek celebratory play as a result. Whereas, if you pump in Star Trek and out comes a critique of Star Trek's messags and themes, you've actually produced (functionally or not) Narrativism.

In short, Simulationism's "venn circle" has shrunken considerably. Where there was much sturm and drang about this or that or the other nasty flame war here on the Forge and elsewhere, it was all in my mind really a symptom of developing and refining the theory.
Matt Snyder

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra


Matt, you may be thinking of this post by Ron in which he says

QuoteSim is much smaller than implied by those essays, and is best understood as a form of celebration of the prevailing enthusiasms/assumptions about some starting material. Consequence or Causality may play a huge role in that process, even perhaps a necessary one ("Internal cause is king" is the way I put it in the essay), but opinions differ. I'll give you some links about that (my current thinking) if you'd like.

That throws a lot of observed play into non-GNS land: Incoherence at best, Zilchplay as well (and for the life of me I don't know why I resisted the concept of Zilchplay for so long when it's patently obviously common). A lot of what I might have tagged as Sim play four years ago, I would now call Incoherent, Ouija Boarding, Zilchplay, or Bitterest Gamer.

So yeah, I wouldn't doubt that a lot of people don't "find" Sim. Its functional manifestations are probably quite rare.

For me the "celebration" definition is unsatisfactory because I find the word itself exceedingly vague. At worst it's just another way of expressing a preference for a strong Explorative basis to play, which is then susceptible to the usual problems of creeping Gam or Nar. At best, some people have suggested forms of robust Sim (such as Metal Opera), but as Ron says, that leaves out whole swathes of gaming.

That raises the question of whether any of that former-Sim, now-Incoherent play is still functional play. And if it is, how does it manage to function? Is there room here for developing ways to facilitate functionality in that kind of play?
Elliot Wilen, Berkeley, CA


Oh, I left out the possibility that a lot of that former-Sim is now types of Gam or Nar. If so, then the problem (if there is one) would be to get people to respect functional Gam & Nar that just may happen to be a little too Simmy for their tastes.
Elliot Wilen, Berkeley, CA

Ron Edwards


If you find the term "celebration" vague, it's because any single word sitting there on its own is vague. Read the threads it comes from. I'm extremely explicit over several paragraphs in them - it's not vague at all. The key word is confirmation, "output confirms input." Elliot, that should be your guide. Do your own search.

Yes, I am burnt out on Sim. I am especially burnt out on people who want to preserve it as a confusion because that means they get to play Freethinker Gadfly. Jason, that would not be you, because your rant is absolutely, 100% consistent with my take on the matter three years aog.

Yes, I left GNS behind, two years ago. The Big Model is the topic. GNS is over, exisiting only as three empirically-derived independent kinds of Creative Agenda. Get with it, people. Read the first section of the Glossary. Discuss that in this forum, for fuck's sake. Then I'll listen to your thoughts about whatever else.

Also, Elliot, I'm not in the business of making people "respect" one or another forms of play. Or to put it a little differently, I consider myself to have fostered more actual respect, as opposed to contemptuous tolerance, among disparate forms of role-playing than anyone else, in the history of the hobby. If you think that's not enough, then start fostering it yourself instead of demanding it. Post your positive experiences in Actual Play - it works.


Matt Snyder

Eliot, that was exactly the thread I overlooked (but remembered reading). Thanks for posting it here. Now, of course, Ron has weighed in, and I think his post is hugely important. Which is to say, can we move on now?

In case it was not clear, when I said that I believed much of the noise was arguing over dysfunction, I meant it. And, consequently, I'm not interested in that noise. I'm (barely) interested in the mode as it relates to actual socially-healthy groups and healthy actual play. So, yeah, lets move the good discussion onward!
Matt Snyder

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra

Jason Lee

I honestly don't have anything else to add after Ron's post.  Just thought I should post an acknowledgment.
- Cruciel


Properly speaking, Jason's reply closed the thread, but coming at this a bit late I want to make a brief remark.

Provided that the Big Model describes the possibilities accurately, Sim is indeed indefinable, or alternatively definable only by a nightmarish confusion of cross-purposes. But this is a petitio principi: it begs the question of whether the Big Model does indeed describe the possibilities accurately.  My current thinking is that it beautifully describes gaming from a process, "do this and get that," sort of perspective.  It is diachronic, an engineer's approach to getting a desired result.  And I sort of wonder whether John Kirk's brilliant new book obviates this model.

But if, hypotheticallly, there is a sort of gaming that is not diachronically formulated, that does not rely primarily on its process of creation, that could in fact be understood alternatively as a means by which what is known already has become known, then the Big Model has no grip.  This is not a criticism of the Model.  The Model does what it sets out to do: it generates ways of thinking about how to get what you want from the process of gaming.

The trick is, I don't think Sim is definable in this way.  It is something that has been achieved, not a thing one can try in the future to achieve, rather like myth.  Which raises the question of whether Sim is intrinsically "coherent" in Big Model terms -- and I suspect it isn't, which is causing the problems.  Sim is, as I see it, an agenda that violates by its very presuppositions and principles the notion of "coherence," and thus falls simply outside the Big Model.  Thus all the fights and grappling and whatnot.  Thus, also, Ron's remark that Sim is in some sense abnormal, a fringe of the hobby.

But in my opinion, and I cannot as yet substantiate this, this "fringe" is also the core of what RPGs are really historically about, and this will require some drastic rethinking of design methodologies and perspectives.

Any desire by someone other than Jason to respond to this ought to manifest in another thread, I should think.
Chris Lehrich

Mike Holmes

Hmm. Sounds to me like my Beeg Horseshoe Revisited version of sim, what you're saying Chris. Which means that, actually, I think we all do agree more or less, except for the phraseology.

One clarification, I believe that Ron has only said that sim is a fringe activity for the populace of the world as a whole. I think he'd quite agree that it's the norm for RPG play. This is only as problematic as people think it is. Rather it's quite sane to continue to provide sim games to the large sim RPG crowd.

BTW, Chris, welcome back. :-)

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