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Author Topic: Gamism and Mechanics  (Read 6224 times)
Valamir
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« on: May 26, 2001, 01:31:00 PM »

Supplanter raised some very interesting issues on by simulationist thread, but since they were at best tangental to the thrust of that discussion I figured they could best be addressed in a new thread.

If I understand your position Jim, you're implying that the existance of game mechanics to account for a certain effect is inherently gamist.

You suggest that Humanity in Sorcerer is a gamist thing because it has a number, that number fluctuates, and that fluctuation influences game effects.  In another example you suggest that Theatrix plot points are also gamist.  Using the Hulk example you propose that if the game was truely Narrativist you wouldn't need to spend a point to activate his ability...you'd just do it.

Didn't really have anything to do with my posts :smile: but a very intriguing angle I find quite interesting.

I'm not sure I fully understand what you were saying in this regard, but it sounds like you're making a case for Simulations have only mechanics that quantify actual things that are measureable and quantifyable.  Quantifying anything else (like Humanity of which there is no real objective measure) is Gamist.  Further that narrative games should have virtually no mechanics associated with them...that even those whose purpose is to encourage story development are inherently Gamist and thus out of place.  Have I characterized that correctly?

If so I'd have trouble agreeing with that.  After all we are talking about Role Playing Games, so perhaps there is and should be an element of "gamist" in all RPGs.  Otherwise you are engaged really in a collaborative writing exercise.

Good mechanics to me provide structure and encouragement, not obstacles.  Using the Hulk example, the benefit of some activation mechanic for a gamist game or a simulationist game are obvious.  The question was why is it needed for a narrativist game.  Well 1 reason is that narrative game play is learned, and as such is a foreign concept to many.  The existance of a mechanic such as plot points, gives a way for inexperienced narrativists to learn this type of play...by giving clear rules and structure to the type of behavior expected.  But even in experienced groups if there was truly no limiting factor is the game not wide open to abuse?

Now here I don't mean abuse in the gamist sense of game balance, or the simulationist sense of inappropriate use of OOC information, but rather in the sense of 1 player taking too much control of the story and thereby decreasing the involvement or enjoyment of the other players.  Wouldn't only that very rare breed of highly experienced and fully intune which each other play groups be capable of play without any mechanical parameters at all?
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Supplanter
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« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2001, 07:19:00 PM »

Hey Valamir, thanks for the reply. Bit by bit...

If I understand your position Jim, you're implying that the existance of game mechanics to account for a certain effect is inherently gamist.


Not exactly. I'm saying outright that mechanics that make a game of something, as the term "game" is understood, are inherently gamist. In the case of the Humanity score mechanic, I argued that it just about requires a resource management mentality, that there are clear victory conditions associated with the intragame (don't run out of humanity is the major one; don't get too much humanity is the minor one), and that the defeat condition (losing control of the character) is not necessitated by either simulationist or narrativist principles.

Now for a compare and contrast: Puppetland's puzzle pieces strike me as NOT gamist in the way that Sorc's Humanity score is. Your puzzle piece gets crossed off and it never comes back. Each hurt moves you closer to the final loss of your character. But because that death is presented as inevitable, Puppetland's mechanic actually dissevers character loss and player defeat. At no point does Puppetland counsel that piece loss is to be avoided. The object is not to keep your piece count up; it's to make the other players cry. There is a gloomy majesty to that.

You suggest that Humanity in Sorcerer is a gamist thing because it has a number, that number fluctuates, and that fluctuation influences game effects.


Again, not exactly. I think your paraphrase leaves out some of the important aspects of my phrase. Perhaps the Puppetland comparison above further clarifies my argument for you though.

Didn't really have anything to do with my posts  but a very intriguing angle I find quite interesting.


I appreciate that. And actually, it does have something to do with your posts: I find it crushingly obvious that the Humanity mechanic is gamist and you don't. That tends to support your argument that attempts to classify games using the threefold model are subjective... :wink:

but it sounds like you're making a case for Simulations have only mechanics that quantify actual things that are measureable and quantifyable. Quantifying anything else (like Humanity of which there is no real objective measure) is Gamist. Further that narrative games should have virtually no mechanics associated with them...that even those whose purpose is to encourage story development are inherently Gamist and thus out of place. Have I characterized that correctly?


Not exactly, he repeated tediously. I can't pretend I was being merely descriptive and not prescriptive. But to the extent I was being prescriptive it was not about the model as such. I'm not saying that games should be one three-fold thing or another but not more than one. I am saying that, descriptively, there exist games that can be shown to be more than one thing. I'm saying, though this is something else that strikes me as crushingly obvious, that artists don't always know just what it is that they have created, and further that this is not necessarily a bad thing. I am also saying, descriptively, that gamism can be a means to a narrative end. Pantheon would seem to show that narrativism can be a means to a gamist end.

As far as having numbers for things that can or can not be quantified, it's a truism that, for the purposes of modeling (that is, simulation), anything can be quantified. The question is how much do you care about the loss of texture and dimension. One may have valid reasons for not caring for the purposes of a particular game, campaign or lifetime in the hobby. You may just really like to pretend to kill orcs, in which case a set of numbers that let you step quickly through any social interactions on the way to the battlefield are a good fit for your needs.

Where I am prescriptive is that I argue that if you value what I am calling, for lack of a better term so far, human concerns (or literary concerns, "story" being precisely one of the set of all possible literary concerns), then that loss of texture and dimension can be fatal. Here is why: In an RPG it is not possible to directly experience the killing of orcs. It is possible to directly experience ideas about loyalty or feelings of loss. If I'm in a Sorc campaign where "humanity is empathy" (and if I hear about even one more of those I'm going to scream), how is my understanding of empathy itself, or even empathy as a quality of a character, enhanced when my character's score goes from 3 to 2 or 3 to 4?

I have actually seen a couple of cases where quantified character traits seem rather well done. Frex, as Seth describes his system for Alyria, my character might have a rating for something like "Aggression." My aggression score means, per his mechanic, that if my character makes decisions to act in an aggressive manner he will have a greater chance of success than if my character decides to do things involving self-control. But Seth's mechanic doesn't seem to require that I keep my aggression score in a certain range; nor does it seem to preclude my character from exercising self-control, or even (gasp) growing in a direction of having more of it.

This strikes me as mechanical (in a pretty limber way) but not gamist. My character's continued participation in the game doesn't require me to keep my aggression up or down. Presumably, my character can seek situations where high aggression is a boon and shy from situations where it is a burden. I wouldn't expect to be always successful at these attempts. I would expect that other character qualities, including some that the system doesn't measure, might compel the character to override his desire to maximize the utility of his aggression.

Now as a purely personal matter, my preferences go beyond that. I find a well-run low-mech or diceless combat more visceral and textured than one with the most elaborately-quantified, "realistic" rule sets. But that is because I am into gaming for the cheap sensationalism. (And where does cheap sensationalism fit into the threefold model?)

The question was why is it needed for a narrativist game. Well 1 reason is that narrative game play is learned, and as such is a foreign concept to many. The existance of a mechanic such as plot points, gives a way for inexperienced narrativists to learn this type of play...by giving clear rules and structure to the type of behavior expected.


This is a valid argument for combining gamism and narrativism into the design equivalent of a gateway drug. What it is not is an argument that a gamist mechanic isn't really a gamist mechanic.

Compare two approaches: David Berkman wants to get people to try a new approach to gaming. Erick Wujcik wants to get people to try a new approach to gaming.

To ease prospective players' comfort level with diceless play, Berkman fills his design with familiar things - attributes! skills! descriptors! But he doesn't stop there. He plays up game elements that replace those lost with the dice. Plot points exist not just to give the player a resource to manage, and thus a gamist float ring to grip as he sets forth on the diceless sea, they exist as the ultimate play balance mechanism. Just how highly does Berkman's design value play balance? He once said, explicitly, that plot points leveled the playing field so that Jimmy Olsen and Superman could both play on equal footing - Superman's player could not use his powers to actually beat the major villain without spending a plot point. He could act as impressively superpowered as he wanted, but he could not materially outshine Jimmy without ponying up that token. And of course, Jimmy could spend a plot point to find the off switch on the Doomsday Machine or whatever and be the one who "wins."

Now let's note one more thing: Superman's player could have an idea for defeating the villain in a way that observers and participants would agree produced the Story to End All Stories, and according to Berkman, the player could not avail himself of this unless he spent that point. (It's all in the rgfa archives somewhere, along with more stupid arguments of mine than I care to contemplate.)

In other words, the game value (manage that resource) trumps the story value, according to the designer. You can of course make the case that this is in service of providing players a level of comfort when trying a new type of gaming. The question becomes to what extent you actually have the old type of gaming in drag, but the issue is at least open to argument.

Erick Wujcik keeps a minimum of familiar elements - there are attributes that have numbers. There are powers that don't, really. At least one of the attributes is different and strange and to this day its actual scope can cause conflagrations among the game's most experienced players. Beyond these few things, Erick Wujcik attempts to ease prospective players' comfort with diceless play by concentrating on what is left when you take the rest of the familiar acoutrements away - a bunch of folks sitting around talking. The system is the examples of play that make up much of the book. The system is Wujcik's (admittedly fallible) musings on the motivations of the Elders and the nature of the Powers. The system is that compelling image of Oberon in flip-flops on the beach, knocking back a cold one.

Now here I don't mean abuse in the gamist sense of game balance, or the simulationist sense of inappropriate use of OOC information, but rather in the sense of 1 player taking too much control of the story and thereby decreasing the involvement or enjoyment of the other players.


I would argue that you don't want to mean the gamist sense of game balance, but that you do. Here's why:

Fred and Cyril sit down to write a satirical novel about advertising set in the future of our solar system. For the novel to be good it needs to evince certain qualities, call them story values. What it doesn't need to be good is equally-balanced contributions from Fred and Cyril. (Cynics would argue that it needs a lot more of Cyril and a lot less from Fred, actually.) The story doesn't care. Fred may care. Cyril may care. But the story doesn't care. The editor doesn't care. The readers most especially don't care.

If you and I and Ron sit down to game, the quality of any story that comes out of it - the ostensible end of narrativism - does not depend on the extent to which the three of us contribute equally. The story may well be better if I contribute hardly at all and you contribute a lot. It's only if you add not just game methods but game values to the session that balance becomes an issue.

Wouldn't only that very rare breed of highly experienced and fully intune which each other play groups be capable of play without any mechanical parameters at all?


Very possibly. This seems related to one of the most common criticisms of diceless or low-mech play - most people don't like it. My response is that this is a good reason for me to expend energy finding the people who do like it, but not to give up on my preference to suit majority taste.

But as I may have finally made clear, I don't feel that I have to get rid of all mechanical parameters, though I am happy keeping the fewest possible.

Best,


Jim
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2001, 07:38:00 PM »

Quote

Now for a compare and contrast: Puppetland's puzzle pieces strike me as NOT gamist in the way that Sorc's Humanity score is. Your puzzle piece gets crossed off and it never comes back. Each hurt moves you closer to the final loss of your character. But because that death is presented as inevitable, Puppetland's mechanic actually dissevers character loss and player defeat. At no point does Puppetland counsel that piece loss is to be avoided. The object is not to keep your piece count up; it's to make the other players cry. There is a gloomy majesty to that.


Anecdotal evidence supporting this.  My gaming group (e.g. the Ben-Ezra gaming clan) was playing Puppetland and one of my sisters was playing a puppet who had the trait "Cannot be sad".  At one point in the story, this puppet heard about something awful (don't remember the details right now) and started crying.  Without being prompted, she crossed off a puzzle piece.  She knew full well the "cost" of her action, but that wasn't relevant.  Instead, in a way, the loss of the puzzle piece represented a loss of innocence, thus describing the effects of Punch's horror on this little puppet.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
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Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2001, 09:31:00 PM »

Wow, what a great post, Jim.  I knew I was right in wanting to hear more of it.

Quote

Not exactly. I'm saying outright that mechanics that make a game of something, as the term "game" is understood, are inherently gamist.


Ok, I gotcha.  If the mechanic involves attempting to acheive gain or avoid loss, and figureing out the appropriate hoops to jump through to do this, than the mechanic has a gamist quality.  I would certainly agree with that, and also agree that Sorcerer's humanity has a very gamist quality.  ALOT of Sorcerer is Gamist in nature such as the ability to use drugs to increase Sorcery at the risk of detrimental effects, both of which are dependent on Fortune rolls, not on what would make for a better story.  If this is an attempt to model the way drugs actually effect Sorcery and the risks they actually entail, then it is very much Simulationist as well.  Either way, its certainly not a narrativist mechanic.

Quote

Not exactly, he repeated tediously. I can't pretend I was being merely descriptive and not prescriptive. But to the extent I was being prescriptive it was not about the model as such. I'm not saying that games should be one three-fold thing or another but not more than one. I am saying that, descriptively, there exist games that can be shown to be more than one thing.


Quite true.  I don't think there's ever been any disagreement about this.  I'm certain Ron has said that virtually all games are a little bit G, little bit N, and little bit S.  If I recall his position accurately he believes that there will come a point in the game where a situation of major importance needs to be resolved and how one chooses to approach that situation indicates which of the three is dominant for that game.

Quote

Here is why: In an RPG it is not possible to directly experience the killing of orcs. It is possible to directly experience ideas about loyalty or feelings of loss. If I'm in a Sorc campaign where "humanity is empathy", how is my understanding of empathy itself, or even empathy as a quality of a character, enhanced when my character's score goes from 3 to 2 or 3 to 4?


That is a very powerful idea.  I hope some folks will comment on this.  If the premise of Sorcerer is struggling with Humanity (however its defined) how does quantifying Humanity with a number that is "spent" and "earned" throughout the game like currency enhance ones understanding of Humanity or help portray the devastating nature of the struggle?  Does it perhaps make it too easy to think of Humanity in terms of a game stat placing a layer of mechanics between the player and the emotion?  Or does such a quantification actually assist in the endeavor by giving the player something concrete to to serve as the foundation of his roleplaying effort?

Obviously the implications for game design go well beyond Sorcerer's Humanity system.  An issue that requires further exploration I think.

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This is a valid argument for combining gamism and narrativism into the design equivalent of a gateway drug. What it is not is an argument that a gamist mechanic isn't really a gamist mechanic.


Again true.  But I don't think the existance of a gamist mechanic in a Narrativist game causes the game to forfeit its Narrativist status.  

Quote

If you and I and Ron sit down to game, the quality of any story that comes out of it - the ostensible end of narrativism - does not depend on the extent to which the three of us contribute equally. The story may well be better if I contribute hardly at all and you contribute a lot. It's only if you add not just game methods but game values to the session that balance becomes an issue.
[/game]

Hmmm.  I know it has become widely used short hand to say that the creation of the story is the most important thing in a Narrativist game.  But isn't really the most important aspect of ANY game that all parties concerned are enjoying the experience?  If one person is monopolizing the game and this is causing other players to not be having fun, than even if this one person's story is much better than the story that would have been jointly created, I'd still say this behavior is very abusive.

If the the person is gaining that much enjoyment from telling the perfect story himself to the extent that he's willing to shut out participation from other players, then I say he should take a page from the Turku philosophy and use another medium besides role playing games to tell his story.

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Supplanter
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« Reply #4 on: May 27, 2001, 07:01:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-05-27 01:31, Valamir wrote:
Wow, what a great post, Jim.  I knew I was right in wanting to hear more of it.


You're very kind. You raise excellent points that lead to fruitful discussion, is the thing.

Quote

Obviously the implications for game design go well beyond Sorcerer's Humanity system.  An issue that requires further exploration I think.


Agreed. It may seem like I'm beating up on Humanity specifically, but that's just because it's an especially clear-cut example of what I'm talking about.

Quote

Again true.  But I don't think the existance of a gamist mechanic in a Narrativist game causes the game to forfeit its Narrativist status.  


Up to a certain point, I agree. Past a certain point, I can't help but recall that you are the fellow who said that intent alone is not determinative :wink:. And past that point, I'm back to that conundrum about the distinction between design and play. IOW, Sorc makes a fine story-oriented game if you decide to play it that way, because nothing stops you from playing that way. It makes a perfectly workable world-oriented game if you decide to play it that way.

And beyond that lies yet another complication, that so often in fantasy the world itself has a story, and an epic occurs precisely at that point where the story of the world collapses into the story of certain characters in that world. (Obvious examples: The Book of the New Sun; the Elric saga.)

Quote

Hmmm.  I know it has become widely used short hand to say that the creation of the story is the most important thing in a Narrativist game.  But isn't really the most important aspect of ANY game that all parties concerned are enjoying the experience?  If one person is monopolizing the game and this is causing other players to not be having fun, than even if this one person's story is much better than the story that would have been jointly created, I'd still say this behavior is very abusive.


Ah! Now we have come to the REAL elephant in the room! Gaming as social interaction among real people. At the time I left rgfa, this possible fourth point on what would become a Tetrahedral Model was a hot topic of discussion. The question was, first, were there gamers and campaigns whose primary aim was social - to hang out, basically? Is this purpose of gaming distinct from the other purposes on the list (game, simulation, drama at the time)? Can we think of a cool name for it? Do we really want to go down that road?

I think if one doesn't go down that road, any theory of gaming is necessarily incomplete. Others argued that, to the extent that social dynamics overrode game, story or world concerns, what you had was not a style but dysfunction. I firmly believe that as a matter of theory, this last argument substitutes prescription where there should be description.

Expanded list of resolution mechanisms: Drama, Fortune, Karma, Mercy. Your character doesn't die because you've been having a tough time lately and I don't want us all to get on the local TV news. Your character surviving is unfair, ruins the story and hoses the integrity of the game world, but I'm a nice guy. (There is of course a flip side: Your character dies because the rest of us are sick of putting up with you. So "Mercy" could also be "Vindictiveness" and we need a new term that includes both.)

Expanded list of stances: Actor, Author, Possessor, Token, Dude. (Add "Director" if you are especially intrigued by the minutia of authorial approaches.)

Continuing...

Quote

If the the person is gaining that much enjoyment from telling the perfect story himself to the extent that he's willing to shut out participation from other players, then I say he should take a page from the Turku philosophy and use another medium besides role playing games to tell his story.


Yes! And this approach is distinct from, and arguably superior too, the approach in your previous paragraph. The previous paragraph argues for addressing the social dynamics in a gamist way. Add rules to hem in the potential abuser. Formalize principles of fair play into a mechanic of authority. Your last paragraph suggests addressing the social problems on the social plane itself. There's an appealing directness about that.

Best,


Jim

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Supplanter
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« Reply #5 on: May 27, 2001, 12:22:00 PM »

Quote

Anecdotal evidence supporting this.  My gaming group (e.g. the Ben-Ezra gaming clan) was playing Puppetland and one of my sisters was playing a puppet who had the trait "Cannot be sad".  At one point in the story, this puppet heard about something awful (don't remember the details right now) and started crying.  Without being prompted, she crossed off a puzzle piece.  She knew full well the "cost" of her action, but that wasn't relevant.  Instead, in a way, the loss of the puzzle piece represented a loss of innocence, thus describing the effects of Punch's horror on this little puppet.


Wow. I mean, Wow.

(Can we swear on this board?) F****ng Wow.

If that don't renew your faith in this hobby as a worthwhile activity I don't know what would.

(BTW, Seth, how do I get ahold of Alyria? It gets no mention on your own website that I can see.)

Best,


Jim

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Valamir
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« Reply #6 on: May 27, 2001, 12:56:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-05-27 11:01, Supplanter wrote:

Yes! And this approach is distinct from, and arguably superior too, the approach in your previous paragraph. The previous paragraph argues for addressing the social dynamics in a gamist way. Add rules to hem in the potential abuser. Formalize principles of fair play into a mechanic of authority. Your last paragraph suggests addressing the social problems on the social plane itself. There's an appealing directness about that.


Hmmm.  I see what you're saying.  That if you encounter a person such as this, that instead of inventing game rules to keep him in check, you simply don't play with that person and encourage them to find a more appropriate creative outlet.

I'm not sure I agree with you precisely because of that Social Dynamic aspect you mentioned.  Another intriguing concept.  To what extent should a game designer account for the existance of social dynamics as a game factor.  Obviously Theatrix takes a pretty major (I gather you would call it intrusive?) stance in this regard.

If one accepts that every gamer has an element of Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist (even Turkus who attempt to use a pledge to purge themselves of the former two), than doesn't this seem to indicate that there is a role for a gamist solution to the issue?
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Supplanter
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« Reply #7 on: May 27, 2001, 04:53:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-05-27 16:56, Valamir wrote:
Hmmm.  I see what you're saying.  That if you encounter a person such as this, that instead of inventing game rules to keep him in check, you simply don't play with that person and encourage them to find a more appropriate creative outlet.

I'm not sure I agree with you precisely because of that Social Dynamic aspect you mentioned.


I take your point. The game rule approach does have genuine social value. What I would say is that there is a whole range of social responses to the problem this side of not playing with the person. But addressing the social problem on the social plane will always carry the risk of unpleasantness and resentment. The gamist response to the problem lets one deflect a criticism of character into a critique of rule compliance.

Quote

To what extent should a game designer account for the existance of social dynamics as a game factor.  Obviously Theatrix takes a pretty major (I gather you would call it intrusive?) stance in this regard.


For my explorationist mindset, yes, I find Theatrix' plot point system as written to be intrusive. (Look! I figured out which category cheap sensationalism fit into!) I suspect that game designers put rather a lot of work into accounting for social dynamics, maybe without calling it that. As this discussion goes on, I'm inclining to the view that a) much of what we call problems of "game balance" are social dangers in disguise; b) that the social interaction approach and its issues may be properly aspects of Gamism, for precisely the reasons you've hinted. (Rules exist to make people play nice.)

The third thing I'm inclining to is that the problems of narrativism as an approach may make it especially reliant on gamism as a lubricant. In response to the First Fear, Railroading, the narrativist designer adds rules to formally bestow some of the GM's authorial power on players. But the Second Fear follows, essentially the first fear expanded - now I worry not just about railroading by the Big (Official) GM, but by all the little ones too (my authorially-powered fellow players). Instead of one person who can "railroad" me, I face N-1, which is to say, everyone in the game but me. (My own intentions being, of course, pure...) So the response to the second fear seems to be rules hemming in the authorial power of all the players too. Theatrix's plot points, per the rules, allow a player to rewrite the entire thrust of a scenario. That upends the power of the GM. But the resource limit checks the power of the authorial player too.

Quote

If one accepts that every gamer has an element of Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist (even Turkus who attempt to use a pledge to purge themselves of the former two), than doesn't this seem to indicate that there is a role for a gamist solution to the issue?


Bravo! You have identified the Return of the Repressed in the Turkus! I salute you! After all, why would they need to purge themselves if they weren't deeply, deeply! imbued with lust for that which they profess to disdain.

And of course you're right: there is room for a gamist solution to the issue, especially if that's what designer, GM and players prefer.

Best,


Jim


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Valamir
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« Reply #8 on: May 27, 2001, 07:10:00 PM »

Quote

The third thing I'm inclining to is that the problems of narrativism as an approach may make it especially reliant on gamism as a lubricant.


In the Alternate Phylogeny thread Paul draws a flow chart with Narrativism deriving from Gamism.  I wonder if that tie in isn't also part of the equation.

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