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Author Topic: Am I a Simulationist or not?  (Read 2984 times)
mike
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« on: June 10, 2003, 12:24:23 PM »

This is my first post to the boards, although I've been reading essays and poking around for a while now.

I've got a lot of ideas swimming around in my head, but rather than trying to make any profound observations just yet, perhaps a better approach would be to ask some questions and make sure I understand this stuff... by trying to understand my own style (with your help).

Having just read the Gamism essay, I find I identified very strongly with the description of the "bitterest role-player in the world." In fact I'd say it's the first time I've ever felt really pigeonholed in a gaming context. I've been trying to decide exactly what I am for years now (since the discussions on rgfa) and still can't put my finger on it. These days I think of myself as a simulationist, but I also feel strongly pulled toward Gamism and sometimes Narrativism.

So being labeled a "bitter Gamist" took me aback; I wonder if the bitter guy is not a Gamist with Simulationist leanings, but a Simulationist with Gamist leanings? Or maybe someone who's trying futiley to do all three at once?

Thinking about it, I wonder if I am a "three-way" gamer?

I nearly always play as GM. After many years of this, I've come to realize that's because nobody else GMs the "perfect game" that I want to play in, so I have to do it myself. As a non-GM player I often get bored or frustrated. A second reason is that I am far more interested in watching stuff happen than actually doing anything -- I like to poke the fire and watch the sparks fly, or set up scenarios so I can watch how they play out. Lastly, playing GM scratches my gamist itch as I love to manage resources in the setting and set up scenarios to see how far I can "push" the party without going too far. It's not competing against them; it's competing against myself for the joy of accomplishment.

No matter what I try, I always come down to a simulationist foundation: I am very concerned with being "true to the setting" and enjoy just watching things unfold rather than taking any action. I've often thought that it would be a lot of fun to have a game in which everyone is just a normal person, with no goals or agenda or even any GM throwing trouble their way, and just experiencing their lives vicariously. MMORPGs are a fascinating idea for that, but far too limited.

On the other hand, I relish a Gamist challenge, and I do want challenge to flow naturally out of the simulation. And I also want to be "moved" by the game -- I want drama to ALSO flow naturally out of the simulation, and am interested in exploring themes. And I want to explore religious, moral, and dramatic themes as well.

It galls me to do anything in the game that is artificial or GM fiat; it feels like breaking the Sim, or cheating at The Game. I have often thought that a game is different from a story because the game is REAL - - something you really did and experienced -- but only if the Exploration is good, and only if fidelity-to-the-setting is 100%. If you had to cheat to pull it off, then it's just fiction, and not a real accomplishment or experience. This applies to both Challenge and Theme. That was a thing that I once loved about the Hero System: the game rules provided a sort of physics with which to simulate everything in the world, which allowed things to be real.

Nonetheless, both Challenge and Theme rarely emerge on their own, and are important enough to me that I *do* spend considerable effort thinking up scenarios, balancing them to get just the right effect, justifying them, and then retrofitting them into the simulation. I think this is because you need players who are willing to exercise restraint and cooperate by designing characters who WILL produce these results, and who are also able to play at an authorial level to "guide" their characters toward dramatic and challenging goals, without their characters actually breaking the simulation.

My players are usually gamists; I'm not sure if that's because gamists are far more common, or because my own gamist tendencies (I enjoy plenty of combat/action and am fond of dungeon crawls) don't appeal to other types of players. But somehow I seem to end up with Hard Core gamists (wimps, powergamers, and calvinballers, usually all at once), and they drive me crazy.

Really, my ideal game would be: a pure simulation, in which the players explore their own themes and in which conflicts and challenges emerge spontaneously.

FWIW, I strongly dislike d20 and 3E (I want to like it, but it's way too complex and inflexible, and seems to encourage Hard Core play - IMO), I like the Hero System despite its complexity, and am currently using Fudge (which I adore). Fudge lets me enforce the simulation without game rules getting in the way. I've recently taken a shine to Savage Worlds because it's simple unabashed Gaminess is very appealing, though it may prove to be too d20-ish; in both SW and Hero I also love the heroic themes suggested in the art and writing style.

Getting back the the "bitterest role-player," I do sometimes feel tired and frustrated with the whole hobby, and my inability to find the right mix of players. I have often thought that if only I could find people who thought exactly like, I could run (and play in) a great game.

I'd really like to understand myself. I keep flipping deliberately from Gamist to Simulationist to Narrativist, and from system to system, trying to find where I fit.

So what do you think? What am I? Is everyone this mixed up?

The thread on Theme/Challenge and HiFi/LoFi was interesting; I wonder if maybe I'm drawn to *both* Theme(Nar) and Challenge(Gam) and just end up stuck in-between (neutral Sim). Then again I don't understand the HiFi/LoFi axis.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2003, 12:44:37 PM »

Hi Mike,

Welcome to the Forge! (You knew that was coming)

All of this reply is based on what I can tell from your post, and also trying to get away from ear-tagging you. We're talking not about "you," but rather, how you play based on this description. A subtle but important difference.

Jeez ... if I'm not mistaken, you've almost completely answered your own question. For whatever reason, you want something that I tend to call "metagame agenda" to emerge from a solid Exploratory foundation. Whatever your "something" is, it's important to you because it emerged from the internal causality of the imagined "processes" ("world," whatever you want to call it), and wasn't inserted in some kind of intrusive way.

That desire causes a bit of a problem, though. You'll see a section in the eventual Narrativist essay that's a hell of a lot like the "Bitter" section in this one, because the phenomenon is the same. Because ... to get what you want out of play, you have to make it happen.

There. That's it.

If the Sim experience is what you want, you have to stick with it and reinforce one another, socially - actually praising one another when someone "gets it right" or doing some kind of confirmatory social ritual when the system spits back exactly what, in your shared estimation, it should produce. That means "emerging" slightly. I can't see any way to get that "we're doing it right" feedback reliably; without emerging just a little, you're stuck with piecemeal satisfaction.

If, on the other hand, Gamist or Narrativist stuff is what you want to see emerge from a primarily-Sim experience, then the road just got much, much harder. Some way, some how, you'll really have to "shift" during play, look at the events and system-stuff from outside rather than in, and decide whether "the thing" is there or not. And when it is, practice some kind of social reinforcement that acts as a "Go" button for everyone. Sure, what you all do to "Go" can be handled from inside the Exploratory context (thus maintaining the internally-causal connection) ... but without that social agreement to kick in, then play isn't going to hit. You "Go" ... and the guy next to you just sits there, still in plain Sim play. Or it's the other way around, the guy next to you gets some kind of bug up his ass (theme, challenge, whatever) and you're not into it, and he messes up your Exploration by "Going" when you're not.

This is one of the harshest conclusions I've come to about role-playing ... that the imagined material will not, and cannot ever, just "be" what it is, and still provide consistent, reliable satisfaction to everyone involved, in the complete absence of social contact among the real people to confirm when "the good stuff" is happening.

Question: do you prefer to GM because it gives you the ability to inflict the "Go" on everyone according to when you think it should happen? That's primarily the reason I was typically the GM in Champions games; it permitted us to play Narrativist because I was forcing the primary aesthetic of play onto the players, via the events of the game-world.

Another question: what did you think of my Hard Question at the end of the Simulationist essay? Did it hit you at all, in any way?

Best,
Ron
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Bankuei
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« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2003, 12:47:17 PM »

Edit: Cross posted with Ron, yeah, what he said.

Hi Mike,

One thing you'll notice in GNS, and that Ron repeats often enough, is that intent, feeling, and "what you think" are not addressed in Vanilla GNS.  Why?  Because GNS is really a behavioralist study...in other words, it can only be really judged in play, by observing actions in play.

That said, the best way to find out where you sit on the GNS scale, is to observe yourself in play, which way you tend to kick decisions, and to occassionally think, "Why did I do that?  What kind of decision did I make there?"

The other thing to pay attention to, is that even if you like one style over the others, that doesn't mean:

1) what one Sim guy likes, you'll like.
2) that you'll like all Sim games.
3) that you'll dislike any other kind of game
4) that you'll necessarily have problems with other kinds of players.

Basically all GNS is saying like Neopolitan Ice cream, "There's three flavors, and most people either have a favorite, or a least favorite, so figure out the one(s) you like, and go for it".

And yes, you can like more than one, although you'll notice in play that a single decision or "instance of play" will favor one over another, and most likely over time, if you did a pie chart, that one probably gets the biggest slice.  

Aside from all that, if you've got a game you like, and folks you like to play with, GNS is not so important.  If you're having issues with the system(s) you're using, or the players you're playing with, then its time to look under the hood.

Chris
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2003, 01:02:56 PM »

I think we should have an "Am I GNS or Not?" website (ala amihotornot.com) where people can post copies of their games and then people can vote on them.

Maybe not.

- J
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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
mike
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Posts: 6


« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2003, 06:42:57 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Jeez ... if I'm not mistaken, you've almost completely answered your own question. For whatever reason, you want something that I tend to call "metagame agenda" to emerge from a solid Exploratory foundation.


(laugh) Yeah, but I wanted to make sure I was interpreting things and using the terminology correctly. Also your Gamist essay really grabbed me and I wanted to sort things out.

After reading the replies to my mesage I got to thinking about my last gaming session; I took a very simulationist approach. I spent hours planning three major scenes linked by a loose "story" (fool that I am) but then did nothing to prompt the players through it or even motivate them. Instead I let them do what they wanted while the planned events played themselves out, and used my plans as a "setting" rather than a script. Everything was ad-libbed based on NPC motivations instead of the plot. It would have been trivial to "hook" them in but it seemed more interesting to let things play out naturally.

Quote

That desire causes a bit of a problem, though. You'll see a section in the eventual Narrativist essay that's a hell of a lot like the "Bitter" section in this one, because the phenomenon is the same. Because ... to get what you want out of play, you have to make it happen.


Hmm, I think I see what you're saying. So if I want Narrative or Game, but use Sim to get it, then my behavior is Sim, right?

What if I were not interested in Exploration at all, yet still consistently used Sim techniques (perhaps for Fidelity reasons). Would that still be Simulationist?

(I hope you're already working on that Narrativist essay!)

Quote

This is one of the harshest conclusions I've come to about role-playing ... that the imagined material will not, and cannot ever, just "be" what it is, and still provide consistent, reliable satisfaction to everyone involved, in the complete absence of social contact among the real people to confirm when "the good stuff" is happening.


Yeah, I've been arriving at a similar conclusion myself, and it's good to have independent confirmation. For a long time, I wanted to just start the game and wait for the players to do something, to react to them instead of inserting anything at all. I didn't want to interfere with their decisions or motivations. That lasted for all of two or three minutes, until I couldn't stand the blank stares and silence any longer. ;)

I think my transitioning to more of a hybrid approach out of practicality, and also confusing desires with behavior, is what has been confusing to me.

Quote

Question: do you prefer to GM because it gives you the ability to inflict the "Go" on everyone according to when you think it should happen? That's primarily the reason I was typically the GM in Champions games; it permitted us to play Narrativist because I was forcing the primary aesthetic of play onto the players, via the events of the game-world.


Maybe, I'm not sure. I'll have to think about it.

Quote

Another question: what did you think of my Hard Question at the end of the Simulationist essay? Did it hit you at all, in any way?


Yes, much more so than the one in the Gamist article. I didn't really relate to the Gamist Hard Question at all, except that I am very noncompetitive and tend to avoid the Step On Up as much as possible. On the other hand, I relish the challenge of survival -- but that doesn't involve any social element, it is me against the game. I've been told that as a player I'm a "powergamer" but I'm not sure I play often enough to really tell.

I think my answer to the Sim Hard Question is, "I want to be thrilled" -- either by emotion or adrenalin. But I don't really play with a specific goal, to where I can say "okay I'm done, let's quit." Instead I very much enjoy the process of getting there, and often I want to prolong the journey and push the goal further out; it's almost disappointing when I reach it. I guess I prefer the roller coaster of continual ups and downs, rather than the climactic achievement. (I love "toy" games like SimCity.) The theme or challenge is the spice that makes it all worthwhile and provides memorable points as well as purpose, but the mundane stuff is enjoyable in that it lends authenticity to the experience.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2003, 06:33:32 AM »

Hi Mike,

This is going to be a very valuable thread for Forge newcomers. I used to have conversations like this all the time years ago on the Gaming Outpost, and I think they're badly needed here at the Forge.

You nailed it with this one:

Quote
So if I want Narrative or Game, but use Sim to get it, then my behavior is Sim, right?


Right. Amazing, in fact. And once you're in that space (to use kind of pop-psych phrasing), you have to decide whether using Sim to get it is really what you want to do.

Based on your post, it seems like it is ... at which point, it's time to turn either to Gamist play with a Sim underpinning (e.g. Shadowrun) or Narrativist play with a Sim underpinning (e.g. The Riddle of Steel).

[I'm using game titles as examples of play, which is a bit of an abomination, but consider the usual short-hand to be in action: "The kind of play these games apparently best facilitate."]

Actually, considering that Step On Up doesn't seem to float your boat much, I'd suggest the latter. And yes, the Narrativist essay would then seem to be the necessary one. I can't say, and probably neither can anyone else, whether you are going to be happiest with Sim play that just happens to include a bit of Challenge and a bit of Theme-making on rare, opportunistic occasions, or with Narrativist play with a very solid "plausibility" component.

Quote
What if I were not interested in Exploration at all, yet still consistently used Sim techniques (perhaps for Fidelity reasons). Would that still be Simulationist?


Ah, whoa, there. Red lights flashing. If you're not interested in Exploration at all, then you're not role-playing. Remember, Exploration isn't a GNS mode or "style" of play; it's what we do in order to play at all.

Also, "Sim techniques" is a bit of an abomination too - Simulationist play is composed of techniques, and it's their combination (as well as interaction about them) which yields the mode. No one technique is Simulationist.

So, given that, I think the language tripped you up there. Any hope of re-stating it? The best bet is to go with real examples.

What game are we talking about? Hero stuff? If so, fire at will, 'cause I'm a Champions veteran from way back, and there are lots of others here too. Talk more about your latest game, tell me what was fun, what wasn't, what's getting tiring or less rewarding as time goes by, and so on.

Best,
ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2003, 07:53:05 AM »

Quote
Quote
Quote:
So if I want Narrative or Game, but use Sim to get it, then my behavior is Sim, right?  

Right. Amazing, in fact. And once you're in that space (to use kind of pop-psych phrasing), you have to decide whether using Sim to get it is really what you want to do.


This is such the corner stone to understanding GNS right here.

You want Nar, but you're using Sim to get it...then you're Sim.

BUT

Eventually you're going to come to a place where you can see some Nar you really like but it lies outside of that Sim space you've been using.  Now you have a choice to make.  You either:

a) Say "nope, I'm staying within my Sim space, my Nar urges have been sufficiently satisfied today, I don't need to reach for that brass ring".

or

b) Say "Ohhh, if I go there I'll be breaching my Sim space...but I really really want to get to that Nar...well...ok...its a "violation" but just this once..."


Two important points:
1) the "choice" here is rarely ever so blatant as to have you talking to yourself about it.  Most of the time it will be so subconcious that you may not even realize (except perhaps on reflection) that made this choice at all.  Likely which ever way you chose felt so natural that it was just "normal" for you to play that way and there was no hard decision at all.

2) if you chose b above, than your session was Narrativist.  You played the entire night firmly rooted in that Sim Space, but when push came to shove you were willing to sacrifice that sim space to achieve the Nar.  You "prioritized" Narrativism.

This last point trips ALOT of people up.  "Prioritize Narrativism" does not mean that you played the entire game "Nar".  In this example in terms of time spent you played most of the game Sim (which is actually the best arguement against viewing GNS decisions on the atomic level there is...but that's not important here).

However, nor does it mean that you were playing both Sim and Nar at the same time.  This play (choice b) was clearly Narrativist because at the critical moment (the "Instance of Play") you prioritized Nar over Sim.  You can't prioritize two things at the same time, so this isn't simultaneous anything.

If during the same session you had 2 such choices to make a similiar decision and the one time you prioritized Sim and the other you prioritized Nar, you may be looking at a functional hybrid.
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mike
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« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2003, 07:57:51 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Based on your post, it seems like it is ... at which point, it's time to turn either to Gamist play with a Sim underpinning (e.g. Shadowrun) or Narrativist play with a Sim underpinning (e.g. The Riddle of Steel).


Yikes! It's sobering to consider a whole new approach.

I've actually been trying the Gamist +Sim approach... I think; or at least using a gamist system. I spent about two years running a D&D 3E campaign and eventually stopped it and sold my books in disgust. I don't hate it, but it was too tempting to play and the play just didn't work.

-- The rules are too heavy (for lack of a better term), too much to keep track of and remember. I can play Hero because I can memorize the metasystem and build-as-I-go, but I can't play GURPS because I can't (or don't care to) memorize it.. it has no metasystem, just a huge body of 'case law'. When I have rules, I want to follow them, so I play Fudge which frees me from most of that. (would that be a Fidelity aspect?)

-- My players are inclined to the Hard Core: powergaming, calvinball, wimpism. 3E gives them fuel and encouragement, and they do tend to sacrifice Exploration. Again Fudge makes calvinball virtually impossible, offers very little to powergame, and softens the wimpism with no hard rules for death.

But as an experiment, I also played 3E with other players who were not Hard Core, and it still left me kind of cold. Thinking back, the players were interested in exploration, but something about 3E put me into a very gamist mindset I think. At the time I thought it was just the rules getting in the way, so I didn't have time to think about anything but the challenge, but now I'm not so sure.

I think one of my problems with 3E is that it doesn't really simulate anything very well (well, it simulates D&D...) and it is hard to get into the Exploration, at least for me. It must not be the rules bulk, because I can Explore in Hero or GURPS, but I don't seem to identify with the characters or the setting, like it's too artificial. I could in earlier editions, maybe because the rules were much looser and had more blank spaces and holes to be filled in with the imagination. 3E is very tight.

Quote

Quote
What if I were not interested in Exploration at all, yet still consistently used Sim techniques (perhaps for Fidelity reasons). Would that still be Simulationist?


Ah, whoa, there. Red lights flashing. If you're not interested in Exploration at all, then you're not role-playing....Also, "Sim techniques" is a bit of an abomination too

So, given that, I think the language tripped you up there. Any hope of re-stating it?


It was more of a theoretical question, but I can see your point: without Exploration it might as well be a boardgame or a math exercise (which is what I was sort of getting at with the "Fidelity reasons" remark... if you're not Exploring, why are you doing this at all?) Anyway, your response answers my question.

If you want an example, perhaps the best example is when trying to understand the mechanics of a new game: you build two fighters, put them against each other, and mechanically go through the combat system to see how it works. There's no real imagination, just a tedious mechanical exercise.

I've gotta go, I'll get to your last question later.

Mike
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