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Origin of the Threefold

Started by John Kim, August 02, 2003, 12:00:15 AM

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John Kim


This isn't exactly a GNS topic, but it seemed related enough that I thought I should put it here.  I've added a new section to my webpage on the">Threefold Model.  This includes a new essay I wrote on the Origin of the Threefold Model, which gives an overview of the discussion in 1996-1998 on which lead to the development of it.  

I'd be interested if anyone here could shed some light on a similar history of GNS.  It seems to me that the context of development adds something to understanding the models.  It would also be very interesting to aid in comparisons of the Threefold and GNS.
- John

Ron Edwards

Hi John,

I'll comply soon, but probably not in the next 24 hours.


Ron Edwards

Okay, here's the history of GNS.

1. I learned about the Threefold in 1997-98 through conversations with a friend who spent a lot more time on-line than I did.

At that point, Sorcerer had been available in its earliest form for about a year. It had been reviewed in a couple of zines and the mailing list was surprisingly active for such a little blip. I even had some art at that point (the little girl currently used as the frontispiece, e.g.).

In terms of theorizing about games, my thoughts on Currency were pretty well-developed at that point, and I'd been thinking about Tweet's DFK material for a while. I'd already concluded that "story" as a term was standing in for at least five or six utterly different processes and points of role-playing, some of which were incompatible.

The basic notion of the Threefold impressed me: it was time to talk about goals and priorities independently of everything else, then to see whether everything else flowed to and from them. I started several discussions about this in the Sorcerer mailing list, some of which survive and are archived at the Sorcerer website.

At this point, since "Drama" as a resolution category in Tweet's schema, and "Dramatism" as a goals-category in the Threefold, referred to two utterly different things, I decided that the names were confusing. So going by which set of ideas was first presented (Tweet's), I suggested changing Dramatism to Narrativism. This was limited to discussions on the Sorcerer mailing list and had nothing to do with anything except terminology.

Point One: I was not a member of the RFGA discussions at any time. The change to "Narrativism" was purely local to the Sorcerer mailing list and for purposes of interested parties.

Point Two: the Threefold definitions now seem to me more of an ongoing ferment that individuals draw personal interpretations from than a fixed, or even semi-fixed model. Our use of the terms and ideas on the Sorcerer mailing list took on its own character almost immediately. In other words, we did not reference "what so-and-so means" in order to define the terms; we thought about it and essentially arrived at one of our own.

I wrote the notes for the article System Does Matter based on my conclusions from these discussions.

2. In 1998-1999, I was a member of GPA and thinking a bit about publishing Sorcerer in some sort of other format. I had also discovered the Gaming Outpost, which at the time was a very active site which attracted some neat people.

In 1999, the GPA was kicking around the idea of a kind of industry newsletter, and the people trying to organize it asked for articles. I wrote The Nuked Applecart for this purpose; when the whole newsletter notion went south, I now had two articles with no home.

I published both articles at the Gaming Outpost, joined in the discussions there with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and plugged Sorcerer enthusiastically. Oh yes, and somewhere in this process (late 1998?), the first PDF of Sorcerer got made and I switched to direct sales rather than a shareware model.

Point One: the term "G/N/S" got established at the Gaming Outpost as short-hand for the three priorities. The term "GDS" may have originated here as well, which frankly is an abomination, and if that was my doing, I'm sorry about that. The proper term for the RFGA topic is the Threefold Model. Later, the slashes got eliminated and people started saying "GNS."

Point Two: the Gaming Outpost underwent at least three server crashes during my time there, and the bulk of the discussions from this period are completely, utterly gone.

3. Later in 1999, discussions on the Gaming Outpost led to me, Ed Healy, and (at first, very briefly) Mike Mearls to talk about a site devoted to independent role-playing publishing. Ed and I created Hephaestus' Forge for that purpose. The site included my two articles, lots of links, and several reviews; it didn't have any forums, but it was intended to showcase Actual Play testimony for individual games.

Hephaestus' Forge served as a touchpoint for GNS-talk ("go see this site") at the Gaming Outpost. Without going into details, server mismanagement put the site out of commission right at the point when it might have blossomed.

But back to GNS stuff. I always regarded System Does Matter as a starting point for discussion, as I figured I didn't have a good grip on other priorities besides (what I considered) Narrativism. Several points that came up and changed my thinking on the Gaming Outpost included (a) the commitment to "story" from what I could only see as  Simulationist perspective (most of this point came from Gareth Hanrahan), (b) the surprising lack of discussions about the Social Contract context (most of this point came from Hunter Logan), and (c) the remarkable denial that goals (shared or conflicting) could have anything to do with fun during role-playing.

Hunter pointed out, too, that by this point, what I was talking about was very definitely Ron's Thing and could not by any stretch of the imagination be considered just a nuance or personal take on the Threefold. After wriggling a little, I eventually came to agree.

The most important wake-up call for me, though, came from the Scarlet Jester, who proposed his GENder model. I was very inclined simply to adopt it as written, except for a crucial point. As it turned out, I could only end up with what I'd now write as [E[GNS]] as the superior explanation over both what I'd been saying and also for what he was suggesting.

I figured it was time for a new writeup, especially incorporating just what I meant by "system." But for almost two years, this wouldn't get done.

4. I decided to take Sorcerer to book form at GenCon 2000. I also realized that the Gaming Outpost, which had undergone some serious design and vision-based changes, was no longer the place I needed on-line. Clinton Nixon provided a solution to the server conundrum that Hephaestus' Forge was in, and he and I created a new site (this one).

I knew at this point that System Does Matter was woefully inadequate for the conclusions I had reached, and also that the larger audience of role-players had a lot of kneejerk reactions to it as written, ranging from utterly-misunderstanding agreement to frenzied, sobbing abuse. The first year of the Forge served as a my crucible for writing the big essay "GNS and other matters," which, for better or worse, sort of cleared the air about what the fuck I'd been talking about, and more importantly, what I thought now, i.e., [E[GNS[System]]].

Point One: at this point, "GNS" now referred not only to the three priorities of play but also to the whole framework. Confusions about this have led me lately to say "creative agenda" to refer to the specific bracket containing GNS (e.g., Gamism is a creative agenda), and "the theory" to refer to the whole thing.

Point Two: much to my frustration, repeating the basic notion of "gee, shouldn't we talk about aesthetic goals?" over and over had taken up so much of my time that we never got to discuss both Rules and Techniques of actual play. For the record, this is what I really want to talk about. Not that I expect it to get satisfied; witness the current four-page wrangle on this forum.

Point Three: the big essay was written to an insider audience, people who'd participated variously in the RFGA, the Gaming Outpost, and the Sorcerer mailing list. It's legalistic, assumes all sorts of familiarity with the debates of 1999-2000, and not intended as a nice friendly introduction at all.

5. This past year, I've decided to write a few articles as the fancy strikes me (e.g. the Heartbreakers) and to write up a clarification of each of the GNS modes/goals of play.

That's about it. John, is that what you had in mind?

I've probably missed about eighteen events, debates, people, and things I should have mentioned. This post was written in a quick rush.


John Kim

Quote from: Ron EdwardsThat's about it. John, is that what you had in mind?

I've probably missed about eighteen events, debates, people, and things I should have mentioned. This post was written in a quick rush.
That's great, Ron.  I'd like to try some sort of meta-analysis at some point (i.e. what does the course of debate over the Threefold and GNS tell us), but it may have to wait for me to contribute much.  If anyone else has insights, I'd be interested.
- John