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Author Topic: The Secret of Sim  (Read 29430 times)
talysman
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« on: November 14, 2005, 08:37:09 PM »

On another forum, someone asked point-blank "what is Simulationism?" because he didn't quite understand it from the essays. This is understandable; although many of us have an idea of what Simulationism *is*, because we've experienced it, we haven't quite found that simple way of explaining it that feels like it fits with the definitions of Gamism and Narrativism. we can't quite seem to agree what "Exploration Squared" really is.

But I've been thinking about Simulationism recently. We know that Gamism and Narrativism are closer to each other than either is to Simulationism, and we know that Sim is *not* simple Exploration; purer forms of Gamism and Narrativism still have Exploration even when Simulationism is removed.

The extra "oomph" that makes Exploration more intense under Simulationism is missing from Gamism and Narrativism. Up to now, we have always tried to define what that extra bit is; but there's another approach: what's *missing* from Simulationism that's present in Gamism and Narrativism? When you read Ron's essays on Gamism and Narrativism, or read Vincent talking about his approach to game design (which, he admits, is mostly of use to Narrativist design,) you keep seeing social issues raised: Gamism is essentially about social esteem within the playgroup, and Narrativism is about sharing "statements" about moral premises through character decisions.

Now, although I like many people have had moments of Gamism or Narrativism in the middle of a game, I consider myself primarily a Simulationist. When Ron or Vincent or others say how roleplaying is all about the social aspect, the relationship of the real people around the table is the most important part of play, I kind of grouse to myself, because if I'm primarily interested in socializing, I have plenty of ways to socialize; roleplaying is not something I (or, I bet, other Sim players) do primarily for socializing, but primariily for something else.

It's about the Fiction.

We've skirted the issue many times. We've wondered what "The Dream" means. We've attempted to define Simulationism as being about some relationship to "The Dream", suggesting "Fidelity" or "Immersion" or other terms. Some people have decided that Sim is primarily about pastiche or fetishism or celebration towards a source material. All of these are not quite right, but they point the way to the real core of Sim: it places The Fiction over The Group, whereas Gamism and Narrativism place The Group over The Fiction.

This is the difference between Exploration and "Exploration Squared". Exploration is building The Fiction as a group; "Exploration Squared" says "decisions must be made in reference to The Fiction, not some priority outside of The Fiction". It's play centered around *things* rather than *people*.

If you reread the essays now, you'll see this definition of Sim is actually buried in there, but Ron can never come out and say it, as if he recoils in horror from what must appear to him to be the anti-social nature of Sim. We can see it also in the occasional disparaging remarks about Sim that surface in discussions with strong Narrativists and Gamists; they say they don't understand Sim or think it's just about wish-fulfillment or fanboyism, but you can see in their statements that on some level, they understand what it's really about.

Now, you can theorize about how the high number of "geeks" in the hobby helped spawn a Creative Agenda that reverses the "people vs. things" priority of the other two agendas; you can theorize about how much wish-fulfillment or fanboyism played a role in creating early Sim approaches. My point is that, once you come to grips with the fact that it's all about reversing that priority, you can see that there are potential forms of Sim that haven't been fully explored. For example, instead of emulating the Color of a specific body of popular fiction, it's possible to create a small set of Setting/Color rules that generate details during play; Exploration then becomes focused on a Fiction that didn't exist prior to play. Since techniques like this could be useful in Gamist and Narrativist designs as well, it seems like a fertile field for thought... but it's probably going to take a Sim designer to really push that boundary; the other agendas have their own boundaries to explore that are far more important to their approach to play.

I have much more to say, but I will need to meditate on this some more.
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John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2005, 02:56:34 AM »

Boy, do I disagree with you. Everyone's after the Fiction. Gamists need it to make strategic and tactical and strategic decisions and Narrativists need it as a medium through which to confront a theme.

If you're generating fiction in order to talk about some aspect of the human experience, however trivial, you're engaged in Narrativist play. Only if that Fiction is for the purpose of re-creation of a static, fictional environment can it be considered Sim.

That is, the creation of original, thematic fiction is Narrativist in nature.

Sez me.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
lumpley
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« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2005, 07:17:23 AM »

John,

It's been my experience that once a person gets narrativism, it's easy for them to see what simulationism must be. The space it fits into is obvious.

When I first got the CAs (and forgive me for being hippie-dippie here) I experienced it as a sudden upward jerk in my perspective. I was like, OH! They're BIGGER than I was looking! And they all clicked into their proper place in my head.

Overwhelmingly, the people here at the Forge who thrash and flail at simulationism - the people who insist that our understanding of simulationism is flawed, that simulationism is problematic, that there's deep unsettledness here about simulationism - are people who don't get what it means to address premise with their friends. Even if they very clearly do it all the time, which some of them do.

Anyhow, if you want to understand simulationism - not just you, John, everybody - you have to understand all three. It may seem contrary, but if you find yourself struggling with simulationism, I'd recommend that you look to narrativism first.

-Vincent
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #3 on: November 15, 2005, 07:44:06 AM »

I've grappled with narrativist play and think I sort of get it and thus have moved on to simulationist play to see how it fits.

I'll start with an example of a game I played in around 1988 that I think has some simulationist elements and see how it connects with your views.

The game was Call of Cthulhu, set in San Francisco in the 1890's. I was running an upperclass educated man from back East. The other people in the party included a Chinese man, a Native American, and an African American. I mentally put myself in the role of this character. There are a lot of social rules of etiquette (and racism) that go along with this. I wanted to act as the character would act but also to have the world work in a way that it would have at that time. We were on Knob Hill (high class part of SF) my party mates walked right up to the front door and knocked - expecting to be let in - expecting to be treated like human beings. Without thinking I tried to discourage them of this course of action. I suggested they go to the servant's entrance. That was the only place I could see them being let in at. I of course could go to the front door. (See the built in racism of the character? We were equal in the party but not if anyone else was looking.)

I emersed myself in the character and thus was not aware that the world was not working like that. The GM was perfectly okay with letting the Chinese character in the front door. Something I can not imagine happening in 1890's San Francisco.

We never figured out what was going on and it was a convention game so the session ended the game. The players liked my role playing so I "won". At the time I thought - You just don't get it. I was trying to play out a social system that is now really politically incorrect. This could have verged on narrativist play except that my motivation was not to grapple with racism but more to be true to my character.

I seldom go into emersion like this when I play so this game stands out in my mind.

It was about emersion (a word you used). It was about fiction. I was not focused on the group - but more focused on being true to a character. It wasn't about "winning" since it slowed us down and we never found out what the monster was. This then looks like sim play to me.

Am I wrong? Feedback encouraged.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
http://HamsterPress.net
lumpley
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« Reply #4 on: November 15, 2005, 07:47:42 AM »

Being true to a character is a powerful motivation across the CAs.

-Vincent
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Nathan P.
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« Reply #5 on: November 15, 2005, 08:56:06 AM »

Considering myself as someone who prefers Sim play, this is definitely something that I've been thinking about as well.

Here's the thing - I feel like there's a way in which it's easy to think that "Nar role-playing" is different from "Gam role-playing" is different from "Sim-roleplaying", leading to the (IMO false) divide between the traditional understanding of what role-playing is and "Forge-style" roleplay, or something along those lines. Like, the sense that playing a Nar-supporting game is somehow a different activity than playing any other kind of RPG.

But. ALL role-play lives under the umbrella that includes both social dynamics, and (as you term it) Fiction. It's a social activity - hence, there are social dynamics. It's a social activity in which the paticipants create something fictional - hence, there is fiction. The CA's live under these umbrellas, as I understand them. These are required dynamics for play. No fiction? No roleplay. No social dynamics? No roleplay. I don't think any kind of roleplay (functional roleplay, at least..though maybe even dysfunctional) places one in a consistently dominant role over the other.

Now, does Sim priviledge the Fiction? In some ways, yes. I absolutely think that Exploration on purpose is a key process of Sim play. But, as Josh says, Nar priviledges the elements of the Fiction that enable the players to address Premise. Gam priveldges those elements that enable the players to Step On Up. It's not like there's not Fiction there. I don't think that you're claiming that there's not Fiction in those CAs, but I wanted to point it out just in case.

So, basically, I disagree that there's this fundemental divide that you posit, Group vs. Fiction. I mean, all role-play is basically making stuff up with your friends. [Making stuff up] & [with your friends] are equally weighted.

The basic question - "what is Sim" - remains, I suppose. But in the same sense that the question "What is Narrativism" is still kicking around. The difference, in my mind, is that the Forge's focus has, for one reason or another, centered on Nar-supporting designs, so there's been more actual play and design of those kinds of games. Basically, I think the answer to the question will come out of more design and play of intentionally Sim-supporting games.
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Nathan P.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #6 on: November 15, 2005, 10:07:02 AM »

talysman, I'd think the deciding factor on your forumlation would be if Sim play with strangers was just as worthwhile as Sim play with friends -- or a slightly weaker and more complex test, if the difference between Sim play with strangers and Sim play with friends was lesser than the difference between Nar or Gam play with strangers and Nar or Gam play with friends.  Obviously, this isn't strictly quantifiable, but I also don't think it's anywhere near true.  Sim play is more fun with people you know.  The social dimension is just as important in Sim as it is for the others, and the Fiction is not "more important" than the People -- in fact, I think you're comparing apples and oranges in that distinction.

For my money, I'd say that there's actually more than one CA in the big bucket we call Simulationism, which is why there's so much trouble pinning Sim down.  As I'm not too interested in that family of roleplay or in developing the Big Model, however, I'll leave the details of what it "really" is up to others with a stronger connection to the subject matter.
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #7 on: November 15, 2005, 10:20:26 AM »

Chris, I don't see anything there outside of Nar play. You were addressing a theme. You weren't reproducing just any part of the period; you were reproducing a part that was interesting and clearly problematic.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Jason Lee
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« Reply #8 on: November 15, 2005, 10:42:13 AM »

Anyhow, if you want to understand simulationism - not just you, John, everybody - you have to understand all three. It may seem contrary, but if you find yourself struggling with simulationism, I'd recommend that you look to narrativism first.

I have to agree with Vincent here, at least as far as looking to Nar to define Sim. 

Simulationism as defined in the essay is in fact the Beeg Horseshoe Theory; you could also say compatible with the Beeg Horseshoe if you prefer omlets instead of hash browns.  The Beeg Horseshoe graphically shows the relationship between how you define Nar and how you define Sim.  How broad the concept of theme is to you (how common moral or ethical dilemmas seem to your perceptions) will define how much of those arms are Sim and how much are Nar.  The same applies to Gam and challenge, but a Nar preference is just overwhelmingly more common among Forge posters so Sim rarely gets hit from that angle.

So, I think your best bet for helping someone understand Sim as written is to use the Beeg Horseshoe.  Just don't mix your definitions of Sim.  The Beeg Horseshoe isn't compatible with the discovery definition of Sim.

If feel the focus on the social aspect of Nar/Gam is a quirk of the model.  I think it comes from the way Ron understands people and doesn't apply well to certain individuals.  John Kim earlier mentioned introvert versus extrovert, but I think if we wanted to classify such things Maslow's hierarchy of needs might serve us better.  Anyway, that doesn't really matter.  Role-playing is a social activity, so there is obviously strong basis for inclusion, even if I feel it is given too much weight.  I don't think discussion of the social feedback is missing from the Sim essay because it is thought to be absent, but because identifying a reward cycle for it is problematic (making discussion of the feedback cycle difficult).  I have no real evidence, that's just my hunch as to why the social aspect of Sim isn't discussed.  I think people would discuss Sim in the same way if they could figure out how.  I really just can't imagine Ron typing "Sim isn't social."

Issues of where the Beeg Horseshoe/Hybrid concepts and hard to find reward cycles place Sim in the model are likely to occur, but those are just flaws that have to be accepted because the definition of Creative Agenda outgrew Sim.

(Cross post with Chris, but I think I'll post anyway.)
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- Cruciel
Jason Lee
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« Reply #9 on: November 15, 2005, 10:46:08 AM »

(Cross post with Chris, but I think I'll post anyway.)

Err... Joshua.  Sorry, misread.
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- Cruciel
komradebob
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« Reply #10 on: November 15, 2005, 10:46:50 AM »

Quote
The basic question - "what is Sim" - remains, I suppose. But in the same sense that the question "What is Narrativism" is still kicking around. The difference, in my mind, is that the Forge's focus has, for one reason or another, centered on Nar-supporting designs, so there's been more actual play and design of those kinds of games. Basically, I think the answer to the question will come out of more design and play of intentionally Sim-supporting games.

May I suggest that some of the failure to "get" sim comes from the aversion to the Sim designs that we've seen commercially?

Those designs tend to have a whole lot of fat that maybe should be trimmed, but tradition has dictated that there are systems and subsystems within commercial/ trad/mainstream Sim designs that have come to be expected. Sim designs tend toward Sacred Cow bloat more than Gam or Narr designs.

Those sorts of Sim designs regularly give a whole tome of rules for doing stuff ( usually physical modelling), but no real direction to play.

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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #11 on: November 15, 2005, 10:48:47 AM »

Bob, that's an interesting point. Let's see some functional Sim design from someone who groks it!
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
komradebob
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« Reply #12 on: November 15, 2005, 10:53:00 AM »

Bob, that's an interesting point. Let's see some functional Sim design from someone who groks it!

Maybe we should convene a "We love Sim" thread?

Actually, all joking aside, it might be useful for Forge participants that identify themselves positively with Sim priorities to set down and hash out the thing. I hate to be all elitist, but "What is Sim" type threads inevitably have posts from folks who say they don't care for that CA and/or games that support that CA. It might be productive to have one for folks that like Sim and which people who don't politely remove themselves until later ( taking a primarily observer role for that thread).
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
Joshua A.C. Newman
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the glyphpress


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« Reply #13 on: November 15, 2005, 10:55:52 AM »

Ah, well, I don't care about the Sim priority except from an academic perspective. I just want to see fewer sucky games. I'm really here just to give support.

I have no idea why someone would want real Sim play and I want some good, positive examples.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
komradebob
Member

Posts: 462


« Reply #14 on: November 15, 2005, 11:00:11 AM »

Ah, well, I don't care about the Sim priority except from an academic perspective. I just want to see fewer sucky games. I'm really here just to give support.

I have no idea why someone would want real Sim play and I want some good, positive examples.

Okay, then let me reverse the question abit:
Please name five things, possibly with examples ( short) and why you associate them with Sim priorities and why you find them negative. If you can, please tie them to your idea of "real Sim".

I'm not trying to put you personally on the spot, but it could be useful to me.

And yes, I would like to see less sucky games also. I hope a few of them will turn out to be Sim supportive.
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
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