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Author Topic: Confused about Premise and Narrativism  (Read 2757 times)
clehrich
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« on: January 25, 2003, 12:01:39 PM »

I'm sorry to rake up old coals here, but I'm lost.  I have read Ron's article, and several threads about the issue of Premise vis-a-vis Narrativism, and the more I read the more I seem to get confused.

Here goes.

You may recall the following post, from a thread long ago:
wfreitag, in "One Order of Narrativism, Hold the Premise"1
Quote
Suppose there’s a gamemaster running an old school game in which the GM holds authorial power. He normally makes simulationist decisions as long as those decisions are also compatible with maintaining a minimal level of aesthetics in the emerging story through authorial artifice....Whenever following in-game-world causality would conflict with the stories' aesthetics, he always decides in favor of exercising authorial artifice rather than following the in-game-world causality....He would do this in order to avoid deprotagonizing a player-character, though he’d probably describe it in his own words as "not messing up the game by having a player-character get shot by a lousy mook at a completely inappropriate time."....


Now after quite a lot of debate, it was generally agreed that this is Narrativist choice.  The point, as I understand it, is that GNS has nothing to do with intent or outcome, but with specific in-game choices and actions taken.  Ron's argument was, I think, that for the GM to make the sort of choice described here, that GM must have a Premise in mind (consciously or unconsciously).

In other threads, Ron has strongly asserted that genre-expectations are not the same as Premise, and that thus one can do straight Sim play within rigid genre conventions.

Now I look at wfreitag's example here, and I wonder.  Suppose the GM here identifies "not messing up the game" with genre conventions; for example, this game is a 30's Pulp Daredevil kind of game, and in that genre major characters don't get badly hurt by random thugs except at dramatically appropriate times.  So the Nar choice here would be made entirely on genre bases.

If I read these discussions correctly, Ron feels that he can identify Premise at work in the above example.  Because that implicit Premise is guiding GM decisions, those GM decisions are Nar.  Therefore Premise-based decision-making is Nar.

But I can readily imagine lots of reasons for making the decision given here, not all of them having anything to do with things like moral issues or questions, which I understood to be central to the Premise concept.  So it seems as though the logic here is: because this decision-making is Nar, therefore there must be Premise.  [Note: I'll come back to this paragraph in a sec --- hold that thought!]

But if all of that is correct, then Nar and Premise are defined mutually, which means that the whole thing becomes tautological: if it's Nar, there must be Premise, and since I now know there's Premise, it must be Nar.

I think the paragraph above, beginning "But I can readily imagine" must be wrong.  It appears to me that Ron spots something at work in the example that I don't see; that is, he has some method for spotting Premise which I don't get.  Furthermore, there is a definition of Premise at work which I just really don't understand, read though I do.

So:
1. Can you define Premise again, perhaps in somewhat different terms?

2. Can you tell me how you know that Premise is present in the example?

3. How can I distinguish between implicit Premise and genre expectations?

Thanks.
Chris Lehrich

1. I'm cutting a bit.  If I miss something essential, please say so.  I'm just trying to get to the heart of it, and since I'm confused, I may miss that heart.
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Chris Lehrich
Jason Lee
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« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2003, 05:36:28 PM »

There seems to be two definitions of Premise in use here.

Premise(1)
As defined in the GNS essay:
Premise is whatever a participant finds among the elements [of exploration] to sustain a continued interest in what might happen in a role-playing session.

Premise(2)
The apparent working definition commonly used to define Narrativism:
Premise is defined as a moral or ethical question that the characters are directly or indirectly dealing with.

Premise(2) includes Premise(1) in its definition, but the reverse is not true.

Premise(1) is necessary for any mode of play (Gam, Nar, or Sim).  It is necessary for roleplaying.
Premise(2) is necessary for Nar play only.
I'm still unclear as to whether including Premise(2), whether intentional or not, in Gam or Sim play tranforms the play into Nar.

Quote
Now I look at wfreitag's example here, and I wonder.  Suppose the GM here identifies "not messing up the game" with genre conventions; for example, this game is a 30's Pulp Daredevil kind of game, and in that genre major characters don't get badly hurt by random thugs except at dramatically appropriate times.  So the Nar choice here would be made entirely on genre bases.
 
If I read these discussions correctly, Ron feels that he can identify Premise at work in the above example.  Because that implicit Premise is guiding GM decisions, those GM decisions are Nar.  Therefore Premise-based decision-making is Nar.


The way I see it the GM is not addressing Premise(2), so it isn't Nar.
The GM is addressing Premise(1), but that just means he's roleplaying.

I'd classify that decision as Sim|Explore:Color, but that classification seems to conflict with Ron's.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2003, 07:44:04 PM »

Hi guys,

Tell you what, I'm on it, but give me some time. It's Saturday night and it's a busy weekend.

Best,
Ron
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clehrich
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« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2003, 08:13:31 PM »

Of course, Ron.  I mean, it's hardly the sort of question that just has to be answered right away or else!
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Chris Lehrich
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2003, 09:40:22 PM »

Whew, I'm back.

OK, Chris, one of the problems is that you're starting with an abstruse thread from one of the folks who's interested in very fringe applications of GNS. Not irrelevant ones, but not topics that I'd turn to in order simply to explain the basics.

The other is that I always loathe discussing GNS in terms of "let's posit a GM who ..." or "when a player does ..." I much prefer a real instance of real play, among people who interact in the real world because they actually exist, playing a game whose rules and stuff we can see, and compare with what the people actually do.

The point is that given the passage you've quoted, the only real GNS answer I can give is, "Not enough information." At the time, Walt's specific context of the old-school-style game played a big role in the discussion that did occur on that thread; just about any and all points we arrived at (or failed to) depend on that context.

Overall, though, I think I can help out with your basic questions. The whole point is way easier than people make it. I mean, way easier.

Narrativist play occurs when people get proactive about the events of play with theme as the first priority. Three things to consider: theme, proactive play, and people.

THEME
To understand this, people have to put aside lots of well-worn incorrect ideas about "theme." Themes are not motifs (repeated images or feelings). Themes are not moods. Themes are not issues like "slavery" or "justice."

Themes are value judgments about a thorny problem that people can relate to. The problem may be presented in the immediate idiom of a fantasy-kingdom in a dragon's dream, or of a cyberpunk setting, or a Manhattan brownstone apartment. But it must be a problem that we, who live in none of these places except possibly the latter, can understand.

In these terms, Egri's Premise is an especially problematic Theme. It is, for better or worse, a Theme under fire, and it is thrown into open question by the events of the play. This is the way he urges a playwright to consider the "point" of his work, as well as its creative center as the writer decides what shall happen in Act Ii, Scene ii, or whatever.

I phrase Egri's Premises as questions because role-players, unlike playwrights, are simultaneously author and audience, and the "writing" occurs at the same time as the "viewing." Thus the Premise does not exist as a full statement until all is said and done, and when it's done, the answer exists as a full Theme.

Narrativist play creates Theme. It doesn't start with one in place (either in everyone's head or just the GM's) and then express it, nor does it involve other priorities (e.g. Gamist ones) and then pop out Theme as a kind of nifty epiphenomenon.

PROACTIVE PLAY
We can talk about a lot of stuff that goes into an imagined, shared event in the role-playing "world." We can talk about the GM's prep, we can talk about character creation, we can talk about the system as written, we can talk about metaplot in the sourcebook, we can talk about the argument about whether a mind-blast can "really" fry a person's brain "that fast" ...

But I'm talking about getting that imagined event into the shared space among the people, and keeping it there as "game history."

If the GM sets "These Events Are the Story" into action, and everyone cooperates ... then "everyone" has not created the story. If everyone provides a ton of raw material through play, with little or no interest in shaping the story, and the GM puts it all together into a Story by tweaking a few things, for them to appreciate later ... then "everyone" has not created the story. Or to put it as clearly as I can, Bob's role-playing was not in and of itself a story-creating device on his part. He was not Egri, if you want to look at it that way.

But what if we're all Egri at once? It doesn't require any funky player-gets-to-narrate rules; this can occur even with traditional GM-does-the-world play. When I, as a player or GM, can contribute to the Theme as an author, with the combined aesthetic "rush" of the creator as well as the cathartic "uhh!" of the observer, and when that occurs as a communicated, mutually appreciated social act - then it's Narrativist. But it's play that I'm talking about, not intent, not result, and sure as hell not "the story" that may or may not emerge from any sort of play.

Things to bear in mind:

1. The emotional payoff of role-playing is not unique to Narrativist play. Both Simulationist and Gamist play share that satisfaction, but about different things from Narrativism. For Sim, it's mainly getting the imaginative content into that shared space in the first place; for Gamism, it's mainly about seeing opposing strategies or commitments work themselves into resolution.

2. Some people play Narrativist with no effort at all. It's quite common among new-person play in my experience; however, most people are told sternly not ever to "do that" in the first few sessions of play. Hence Narrativist priorities are very rare among experienced gamers, and they may react to it with fear and anger.

Other people play Narrativist with a lot of self-reference and formal self-monitoring. Although that's fine in and of itself, I think that trying to do this unnecessarily (because one thinks "it's Narrativist to suffer over every detail to make sure that we aren't straying from the Premise") is not especially rewarding.

3. Everything, everything I am talking about happens over a substantial period of play. I have said over and over that an "instance" of play, as I refer to it in my essay, is not a single moment of decision regarding a character's actions. It is at least a few scenes, and very likely as long as a session. This is not an operative definition. It is a definitive definition. Actions, thoughts, decisions, and so forth that occur at a shorter time-scale are not accessible to GNS - note, not just to our observation of GNS, but to the categories themselves.

4. The GM is a type of player. What GMs and non-GMs do may differ, in terms of what venues or spheres of influence they have relative to the events of play, but they are both playing.

One quick point: What is the relationship of Narrativism to "story"? It is one of the types of play that consistently produce such a thing. It's quite reliable in this regard, especially in terms of efficiency (real-time play) and in terms of mutual and simultaneous appreciation of the output.

PEOPLE
A lot of people fail to understand that the GNS categories aren't about anything, ultimately, except humans interacting with one another. Think of all the communication at the table, among them - GNS only occurs along those vectors of communication. This is why I am very uninterested in self-only-analysis of play ("When I had Sebastian shoot the Blob-Man, why, I felt his rage ... so that means I was in Sim/Char, right?"). The role-playing exists in a communicative space among everyone present, and GNS classifies the apparent goals of that communication.

What do the people want from play? Where's the payoff? Take the typical example: combat. What role is it playing in the narrated/shared events as a whole, that session? Was it the point, the climax? If so, why? Because it expressed the Theme (as it was created, that moment), or because it's what you do with the villain after the real point, which was to figure out the villain's plan? There are so, so many ways that a combat scene can factor into the different goals of play that I can't list them here. But I can say that only some of those ways are going to produce story in the proactive way that I describe above.

The real evidence of a GNS mode is not found in the self-analysis of "what I was doing when." It's found among the mutual feedback that is always present at the gaming table. A person sitting with his head on the table is communicating; so is the person who's gotten up to scratch his ass and fiddle with the stereo. A person who's angry with everyone else is communicating this to them even in his refusal to answer a generally-posed question (GM: "So what are you all doing?" Bob: silence). I use these negative examples to emphasize my point; positive, happy, excited examples are evidence that the payoff that I'm talking about is occurring.

To repeat: Narrativist play occurs when people get proactive about the events of play with theme as the first priority.

So ... did any of this help or am I on the wrong track entirely?

Best,
Ron
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ThreeGee
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« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2003, 07:05:10 AM »

Hey Ron,

Just my two-pence, but I think this is your clearest explanation of Narrativism yet.

What I liked about it was that you clearly stated that Premise is not necessarily an active goal, and you did so mostly without using the term. For a long time, I let premise get in the way of an otherwise simple concept, and I suspect that many others on this board are having the same problem.

Later,
Grant
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clehrich
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« Reply #6 on: January 26, 2003, 08:03:09 AM »

I'm going to second ThreeGee --- I think this is much clearer.

Now I have to go wrap my head around it.  I'm writing a game at the moment (it will soon appear on the Indie forum), and I'm interested in thinking about where it tries to stand with respect to GNS, i.e. what sort of play it most encourages.  The idea is to have a game that doesn't try to do everything, but to do one thing well --- which, as I understand it, is what you strongly advise in game design.  So I want to get the concepts clear.

Thanks for the explanation.
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Chris Lehrich
Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #7 on: January 26, 2003, 10:12:00 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
If the GM sets "These Events Are the Story" into action, and everyone cooperates ... then "everyone" has not created the story.


A minor clarification.

Where do you see the GM taking information from the players and setting "These Events Are the Story" from this material?
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Jason Lee
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« Reply #8 on: January 26, 2003, 10:32:47 AM »

Let's see if I understand.

Premise(1):  Premise(1) is whatever a participant finds among the elements [of exploration] to sustain a continued interest in what might happen in a role-playing session.  Premise(1) exists in the layer above GNS, at Exploration.
Premise(2.x):  A Premise(1) focused into a specific mode of play.  Any one of Premise(2.G)|(2.N)|(2.S).  An individual Premise(2.x) is mutually exclusive with its brethen, because it is compartmentalized within the mode (G, N or S) it was defined for.
Premise(2.G):  A Gamist Premise(1).
Premise(2.N):  A Narrative Premise(1), previously referred to as Premise(2).  An Ergian Premise.  An Edwardian Theme.  A thematic question, moral or ethical in nature.
Premise(2.S):  A Simulationist Premise(1).

When "Premise" is referred to in GNS context you may assume you are referring to Premise(2.x), as Premise(1) is safely factored out of GNS definitions.  Which Premise(2.x) you are referring to when using the word "Premise" will be defined by whichever of G, N or S you are discussing at the moment.

If I'm correct, then future uses of the word Premise to define Narrativism could use a clarifier to avoid confusion.  In your post you did that by calling it an "Ergian Premise", and you also did it by using the word Theme instead.  Much clearer, in my opinion.  

Though, I do understand that the Ergian Premise and Theme are supposed to be subtly different (action & reaction).

Interestingly enough, the GNS essay uses the word theme to define Narrativism...did things get befuddled with time?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2003, 06:35:17 PM »

Hello,

Boy, all of this is like a replay ...

HISTORY LESSON
All right, everyone should understand that the current essay was posted in (um) November 2001. (Is that right, guys?)

They should also understand that it has a place in a meta-conversation that dated back several years. Let's see ...

1) On the Sorcerer mailing list, 1996-2000. Almost all of this is archived at the Sorcerer site.

2) At the Gaming Outpost, in the Critical Hit and the Sorcerer forums, 1998-2001. This is where I posted the essays "System Does Matter" and "The Nuked Apple-Cart" for the first time, in early 1998. This site went through at least two severe server crashes, each time evaporating many thousands of words.

3) At the original Hephaestus' Forge, started by me and Ed Healy (mid-late 1999 if I remember rightly). The essays were posted here as well, including "War Story," as well as my first reviews (Puppetland, Orbit, Swashbuckler, and a couple others). This version of the site had no forums, being linked to the design forum at GO, which Ed initiated; also, it went server/crisis-moribund for quite a while.

4) Here at the Forge, pre-essay, and most especially regarding another essay by Hunter Logan and edited by me, which prompted a lot of angry debate. I don't think this was Hunter's fault and I still think his essay ("the FAQ") got a raw deal from a lot of readers.

5) Here at the Forge, both post GENder (the model proposed by the Scarlet Jester which introduced the concept of Exploration), and post-essay, which adapted Exploration and made it central to GNS.

The essay was written primarily in order to deal with a hell of a lot of "Ron says" comments, both pro and con, which frankly were either misinformed, non-critical, and sometimes kinda stupid. It was time to say "what Ron says" without fucking around, and without any need to represent anyone else's analysis or to "summarize game theory" in any larger way.  

That's why it reads so legalistically. That's also why Narrativism - which until then was well-understood by most readers - got downplayed, because many people disliked my preferences for it. What's annoying about that, in retrospect, is that back then, I had to deal with tons of people who "got" Narrativism and failed to understand my take on any of the rest of it, whereas now, I see a lot of people who understand everything I'm saying except for Narrativism.

But GO's forums are either all evaporated or unavailable. The FAQ was taken down from the Forge at its author's request. Almost all the information that gave all those folks a crucial understanding of Narrativism - and hence why I didn't lay it down in four-part harmony in the essay - is gone.

Jack, I didn't really understand your question.

Cruciel, seems to me you've pretty much paraphrased my essay's stuff on Premise. I'm not sure what to add to it.

Best,
Ron
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Jason Lee
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« Reply #10 on: January 26, 2003, 07:00:30 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Cruciel, seems to me you've pretty much paraphrased my essay's stuff on Premise. I'm not sure what to add to it.


'K...no need to add if my paraphrasing is correct.  I just wanted to make sure I had all my Premises (read: ducks) in a row.

Thx.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #11 on: January 26, 2003, 07:26:06 PM »

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Quote from: Ron Edwards
If the GM sets "These Events Are the Story" into action, and everyone cooperates ... then "everyone" has not created the story.


A minor clarification.

Where do you see the GM taking information from the players and setting "These Events Are the Story" from this material?

That is, the players feed the GM information and elements which the gm then uses to make the Story as he sets it up. In this way "everyone" is creating a story in a snese. I was wondering where this fit into the scheme of things. I think I know. Your quote about is where you're describing "story" things that are not Narrativism. I just wanted to see how you would put it, because I can see this coming up if I try to explain Narrativism to my friend again.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2003, 07:34:34 AM »

Hi Jack,

We probably need to get even more specific to address your question, but I'll try it from here. I can see two ways to interpret your question.

1) You've potentially described the original description of Illusionism, what I now call "retroactive" Illusionism - during play, the characters do X, Y, and Z, and in prep for the next session, the GM tweaks the events around such that X and Y and Z are all part of his big ol' story, some of which he reveals in that next session.

My claim is that the actual production of X, Y, and Z are not themselves story-creating acts at that time, in the sense of the real players' metagame-priorities. The role-playing is one thing (Sim/Char, whatever), and the story-making is another.

2) Now, if you're talking instead about the players contributing Premise-oriented, decision/priority-oriented material to the GM prior to play or between sessions, then you're talking about prep that sets up for some Narrativism. That's what a Kicker is.

This is important, though: it's not role-playing yet. We'll have to see the group in action before talking GNS. So far, it's just prep.

Best,
Ron
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #13 on: January 27, 2003, 09:34:32 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
2) Now, if you're talking instead about the players contributing Premise-oriented, decision/priority-oriented material to the GM prior to play or between sessions, then you're talking about prep that sets up for some Narrativism. That's what a Kicker is.

This is important, though: it's not role-playing yet. We'll have to see the group in action before talking GNS. So far, it's just prep.

OK, what I'm talking about is closer to this than #1. I'll try to be a little more clear.

Basically, the GM, at variuos times during the week will ask "What do you want your character to do?" The player may answer something like "Part of the background I rolled up says that my father is missing. (gods bless Central Casting) I would like to try and find him." Based on seeds not unlike this, the GM then sets up a "story" and at some point either a clue to the whereabout of the father is found OR a merchant comes to town and one of his slaves just happens to be the father (this has happened!)

So this is obviously prep and if it happens to be Premise-oriented, decision/priority-oriented then maybe it is Narrativism. Otherwise I am not sure what to call it. Maybe it's still Narrativist prep, but the payoff is not necessarily Narrativist in execution.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: January 27, 2003, 10:43:10 AM »

Hi Jack,

Properly speaking, no prep can be GNS-classified, not even Kickers. It might be spoken of as GNS-facilitating (Kickers for Narrativist play, e.g.) at most.

So yeah, the classification wouldn't happen until we were talking about actual play, over several sessions so we could see what role the prep was taking in terms of what went on in each session.

Best,
Ron
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