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Author Topic: NOMA and GNS  (Read 2746 times)
James V. West
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« on: December 08, 2002, 03:16:23 AM »

This may be the first time I've posted in the GNS forum. I generally don't get involved in theory discussions, but this question kept bugging me all week (and if I'm trodding on well-trodden soil, toss me a bone because I don't keep up with GNS discussions and I know I've missed 99% of them).

In Stephen Gould's Rocks of Ages he discusses the idea of NOMA--Non-Overlapping Magesterium--to settle the ages-old bogus dispute between science and religion. The jist is that each of these areas of human thought are totally independant of one another and do not in any way overlap. Science deals with the physical, religion deals with the spiritual and that's that.

This isn't to say they don't interact, because they do interact in surprisingly complicated ways (like the way the globs move in a laval lamp). But one cannot dictate the other. Science can never answer the question "Is it wrong to kill?", religion (I prefer "spirituality" here, but the book specifically uses "religion") can never answer the question "Where did we come from?".

That being said, how does this idea apply to GNS?

I spent several days thinking about it. At first I had this crazy thought that in this model only N and S were legitimate components and G must occupy some kind of interactive space between them--a kind of catalyst. But I couldn't reconcile that view. I wanted to show a distinct 1:1 substitution as in Science=Sim, Spirituality=Nar. The only thing I could think of as a third factor coming from the "real world" was that perhaps Business could be a Magesterium too (it's 5 AM so I'm really talking without filters here).

I mean, it sort of makes sense.

So, applying NOMA to GNS would ivolve making it a 3-sided idea instead of just 2. No problem.

The reason I thought this line of thinking could be useful was not to challenge any standing GNS theory, but to add a new tool for interpreting and using the theory. If we know that G, N, and S are seperate Magesterium then some basic confusions might be quickly cleared:

1) That you can't get Story from S because S only deals with Simulation of a Reality. If you want Story, you turn to N becuase that is N's domain. Likewise, you can't use G if you want to Simulate a particular Reality.

2) That even though these three Magesterium are mutually exclusive, they can, should, and do interact in ways you can't always predict. Therefore don't beat yourself over the skull if you can't seem to figure out how to make them work together.

3) That people can and do function under all 3 at the same time, though they probably lean more heavily to one mode and less to another.

How can this be used to make better games, and to play better?

Well, in the book Gould talks about the fact that the Catholic Church has essentially embraced the idea of NOMA allowing Catholics to learn and accept scientific explanations for life and evolution while still being true to their faith. Some people don't like the idea at all, and probably never will.

In these forum discussions (not just here at The Forge, but elsewhere), there is sometimes a strong division in thinking. The concept of GNS is pretty young, so it hasn't really trickled into every level of the scattered rpg culture and those "old-schoolers" who lash out against games with remotely narrativist elements probably haven't been exposed to the idea that games can be done another way and that their traditional approach isn't the best approach for every style of play.

To me, this is the equivalent of a brimstone preacher tongue-lashing evolution. He's never heard of NOMA. It would take years of exposure and patient discussion to ever get him to warm to the idea. But there it is: this wonderful idea that two worlds known to clash time and time again have no reason to clash. And it's not a new idea either, Gould just fomalized it a bit with his book.

So I may be braindead at the moment, but it seems to me that this line of thinking could be somewhat useful.

What do you think?
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #1 on: December 08, 2002, 07:12:30 AM »

Hi James

From what little I understand about GNS, the idea of overlap pretty much is already included but I think your post here is of merit. Through discussion and whatever, the meanings of the three in GNS have blurred a little bit, but has made things confusing. I like the idea that if there is, say, a story element, there *must be* N in the game and so on. This could help harden things a little, at least in discussion.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: December 08, 2002, 07:56:58 AM »

Hello,

James, I think the baseline concept of NOMA is extremely sound, although Gould frankly makes it harder than it has to be (see old-school discussions of materialism/vitalism from the 19th century). What you're missing, though, is the crucial concept of Exploration in my theorizing.

Exploration is a shared phenomenon in role-playing; as I like to say, it's the "bigger box" surrounding G, N, and S. "G," for instance, is a goal or focus for Exploration. So is "S." So is "N."

This makes applying NOMA pretty tricky. As long as you're talking about experiential procedures and modes, then yes, the three modes are extremely distinctive (and Jack, I don't think their meanings have blurred at all). But if you're talking about outcomes (like "story"), or about baseline Exploration issues ("I like to get in-character") then G, N, or S distinctions are completely unhelpful.

Best,
Ron
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James V. West
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« Reply #3 on: December 08, 2002, 08:29:31 AM »

I think NOMA is a nice, simplified scope that can bring GNS into focus a bit more clearly for me. Wether or not it is usable in a broader sense is why I brought it up.

So, I'll look back over the Exploration stuff. As the bigger box around GNS, so it seems that human life is the bigger box around Gould's NOMA argument, right? I'm not exactly getting you as far as "experiential" and "outcome"--I've probably missed any discussion of that in the past.
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talysman
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« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2002, 01:05:08 PM »

the way I think of GNS is:

there are two "poles" in GNS, the first pole being in-game exploration vs. metagame concerns.  Simulationist play attempts to minimize metagame concerns in order to exalt Exploration; Gamist and Narrativist play both have metagame concerns, which they exalt over Exploration (Exploration is only important in so far as it assists those metagame concerns.)

the second pole is the metagame pole between Gamist and Narrativist play (Simulationist play has no relationship to this pole at all.)  on the one hand, Gamist play emphasizes competition or challenge, while on the other hand, Narrativist play emphasizes the Premise. Narrativism only allows conflict when its resolution supports the Premise; Gamism only cares about Premise when it generates a challenging conflict.

when I think of it this way, it's easy for me to see why G, N, and S don't go together. if everyone wants to play Sim except one player who wants to play Gamist or Narrativist, that person's metagame desires will interfere with the rest of the group's attempts to minimize anything outside of the Exploration. if the group is split half Gamist, half Narrativist, they will be trying to pull the game in two opposed metagame directions.

I think the NOMA comparison could be used to understand G versus N, with G being more like science (concerned with mechanics, game balance, numbers) and N being more like religion (concerned with meaning, morality, decisions.) the GN versus S pole is more like "real world" versus "theoretical world", something NOMA doesn't address at all and which isn't a pair of mutually-exclusive domains (there is always Exploration in roleplaying; the GN vs. S split is one of emphasis.) and the entire framework exists within a social context.
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John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: December 09, 2002, 01:43:30 PM »

Hi John,

Not bad at all! I like that.

Best,
Ron

P.S. I'd throw out the religion vs. science thing, but perhaps that's because the issue is close to home for me, professionally. (And it is definitely off-topic for the Forge, as a whole issue. Feel strongly about it? Discuss via private email.)
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talysman
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« Reply #6 on: December 09, 2002, 02:28:12 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hi John,

Not bad at all! I like that.

Best,
Ron

P.S. I'd throw out the religion vs. science thing, but perhaps that's because the issue is close to home for me, professionally. (And it is definitely off-topic for the Forge, as a whole issue. Feel strongly about it? Discuss via private email.)


no problem. I don't care so much about religion vs. science; I was just trying to relate it all back to the original question. James said he personally finds the NOMA concept helpful, so I tried to relate it to what I'm saying. if I were using the same polar concept to explain GNS to someone else, I wouldn't even mention religion and science; it's not relevant, and there's a whole load of philosophical baggage that goes along with that debate.
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John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
James V. West
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« Reply #7 on: December 09, 2002, 04:01:50 PM »

Cool. Thanks for that reply, John. Makes sense.

My thoughts on this are totally aimed at the design process, not actual play. I'm just toying with the concept that there are mutually exclusive concerns in game design (such as S vs N). I don't know. Just seemed to make some sense to me.

Also, I wasn't interested in discussing anything controversial or non-rpg related, so I hope no one thought I was trying to punch buttons or something. ;-) I think the framework of NOMA is interesting and widely applicable.
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