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Something for the Narrative pot

Started by GB Steve, October 29, 2002, 05:40:36 PM

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GB Steve

I've been reading the excellent Cambridge Intorduction to Narrative by H. Porter Abbott. It's pretty much an undergraduate text on the subject and covers most of the main points whilst offering good ideas for further reading.

Where it gets interesting for GNS-chiks is that he specifically mentions 'gamers' and has this to say about whether a roleplaying game is a narrative:
QuoteTo sort this out, we might start by going back to the distinction between story and narrative. Story, you will remember, is something that is delivered by narrative but seems (important word) to pre-exist it. Narrative, by the same token, is something that always seems (again, an important word) to come after, a re-presentation. Narrative, in other words, conveys story, and even if Culler and others are right that the storey doesn't really exist until it is conveyed, we still have the sense of the storey's pre-existence of the narrative that conveys it. If we to hold this useful distinction between storey and narrative, then neither life nor role-playing games qualify as narrative since their is no pre-existing storey. In this sense, role-playing games, like theatre improv, are like life itself.

He further dismisses role-playing games as stories labelling them as "seed-grounds of stories - stories that can be then rendered in narrative, the way I might narrate a story about two players who got married during a game of Asheron's Call."

Further on he talks about Espen J. Aarseth's book Cybertext which offers a solution to the conundrum of role-playing games:
QuoteIn a game, like a football game, for example, Aarseth argued that you have a sequence of actions but not a story. These actions, then, are not narrative actions, but "ergodic", this is, "a situation in which a chain of events... has been produced by nontrivial efforts of one or more individuals or mechanisms." In "adventure" or role-playing games, the "user" (not reader) to a degree creates by her of his own actions the ergodic chain of events, but only within the constraints of something that seems like a hidden story. Aarseth uses the term "intrigue" for this plot-like element that the user can only find out by making moves, that is creating events through action. Instead of a fixed story with a linear course, there are multiple possibilities, and that series that happens is recorded in the manner of a log: "Instead of a narrative consituted of a story or plot, we get an intrigue-oriented ergodic log."

In the context of GNS, it seems that the premise might play the role of the "pre-existing story", or at least something close to that.



Great post.  Especially for the introduction of the word Ergodic.  There needs to be a word to mean that sort of "non literary" story.

However, choked on it.  Best I could find was something to do with higher order math in a medical dictionary.  Is "Ergodic" a real word or one of those narrow jargon type things someone created.

Mike Holmes

Ergo being, I think, Greek for work (as in Ergonomics), would indicate that the word Ergodic would indicate "things that are like works". Which fits the "chain of events" idea. Sounds good to me. I'd use it.

BTW, Steve, I think your assessment is precisely correct.

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Gordon C. Landis

Hi folks,

So a nagging memory of conversation with Web-literature obsessed folks and a little Googling yielded me " . . . a work of physical construction that the various concepts of 'reading' do not account for.  This phenomenon I call ergodic, using a term appropriated from physics that derives from the Greek words ergon and hodos, meaning 'work' and 'path.'  In ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text" (from the aforementioned Espen Aarseth's Cybertext).

Aarseth goes on to point out that for this to be a true, distinct phenomena, there must also be NONergodic literature - and that probably gets into what counts as trivial and what doesn't, and etc.  I have no idea how well the argument is developed, but - there's a definition for ya.

Another interesting bit my Googling turned up is a snip of an "editorial review" of Cybertext by Ingram: "Do the rapidly expanding genres of digital literature mean that the narrative mode--novels, films, television drama--is losing its dominant position in our culture? Author Espen Aarseth eases our fears of literary loss (at least temporarily) by pointing out that electronic text requires an interactive response to generate a literary sequence. Where's the fun if you have to write your own ending?"

And here I thought writting our own endings WAS fun.  Silly mistake . . . :-)

Gordon (under construction)

MK Snyder

"ergodic" looks to me to be a fancy synonym for what is usually billed as "interactive fiction".

As for the "story vs narrative" distinction, again, there is a continuum; if the GM is "railroading" the characters through a scripted adventure that could be a narrative fulfilling a story, leaving detail and description to the players as co-authors.

GB Steve

[Just in case you didn't know, I'm not one who like GNS much but I thought what I was reading might well be interesting to those who do, and other theory junkies as well.]

I think "ergodic" goes further than interactive fiction in the sense that the football game example also produces something that can be seen as some sort of "interesting chain of events" that require some kind of effort to produce. The effort being on the participants rather than any audience.

In this respect, "intrigue-oriented" seems to be opposed to what one might call, for the football match, "teleological", i.e. towards a goal (the pun was too hard to resist).

So "ergodic" means interactive and "intrigue-oriented" is near to fiction.

I think the main problem here, as far as GNS is concerned, is that narrative means something, that seems to me to be very different. I no longer think of the "N" as meaning oriented towards a story (or even "intrigue-oriented"), I think of it as meaning "having a premise". In fact according to our two Lit guys, all roleplaying is, in this sense, "N" (if you take "N" to mean "intrigue-oriented").

I'm not sure I agree with that either, particularly when the roleplaying concerned reduces the character to a token, such as in the farthest reaches of rpgs where they approach board games like Sorcerer's Cave or Talisman. This, I guess, is the teleological end of the ergodic log spectrum.

Anyway, I find the terminology interesting and stimulating, in as much the approach is to look at roleplaying from the perspective of "what is produced" and "how it was produced".

The difference between whether the ergodic log is "teleological" and "intrigue-orientation" does seem to come down to the intent of the participants. "Intent" might have to be read in the legal of sense of "the undeniable result of your actions" rather than necessarily the "desired result of your actions" given that much of what goes on in RPGs is not explicit, people just play in the way that they play without much regard as to what the consequences of this might be.


Gordon C. Landis

Argh - lost a longish post exploring some of this terminology, and I"m about out of time.  Short version - if you don't accept the Story vs. Narrative distinction that Steve's quote establishes, the issue of what "pre-exists" in Nar RPG play goes away.  I think some folks do indeed dispute that distinction.  But then again, a small-n-narrative without Story is how some folks describe the story that can result from Sim play . . .

Maybe it's just as well I lost the long post.  I think I need to think about this'n a bit.

Gordon (under construction)

Jack Spencer Jr

I believe the story pre-exists. I think the author of the story is the first one to find it. I buy Stephen King's analogy of stories are like fossils, pre-existing artifacts that must be unearthed.

I guess it depends on what you believe.

Don Lag

Very interesting quotes Steve.

A small side note on ergodicity. I recognized the term from physics (statistical mechanics in particular). I found [url]this link[/url] which suggests the origin of the term is in fact borrowed from physics.

Ergodicity in statistical physics relates to the hypothesis that if you take a thermodynamic system (a system with MANY degrees of freedom, i.e. a gas composed of not 10 or 100 but millions of millions of millions... of millions of particles) in a known macroscopic state (the gas has a given volume, energy and number of particles but we don't know about the actual positions+velocities of the individual particles) then all microscopic states (combinations of particles positions+velocities) are equally probable of ocurring.

A little more simply stated: within certain global conditions, anything that CAN happen is liable of eventually happening.

Again in thermodynamics/statistical mechanics, it suggests that systems go from one microscopic state to another eventually visiting all possible configurations. If you take uncertainty in account, it kinda adds up to systems randomly visiting all possible configurations that comply to the given global conditions. (Physicists are welcome to correct me if I'm wrong).

So, from what I read in the quote, I think Aarseth tries to convey the image of games as processes where a large space of events can be visited by succesive steps from one event to another. And that in principle any of these events is equally probable of ocurring. I'm pretty sure he doesn't suggest that this chain of events is random, but rather guided by the "users" own motivations.

I'm pretty sure everyone is very much on track regarding the term "ergodic", I just hope this info provides a little more insight.

Sebastian Acuña