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Author Topic: "Story," Actor stance, and My Guy-ism  (Read 6324 times)
Epoch
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« on: October 17, 2001, 09:05:00 AM »

Ron requested a different thread for the continuation of this discussion.


Hey Mike S (Epoch), can't leave that "story" issue alone, huh? Like a loose tooth. My claim is that your described mode of play - in practice - comes perilously close to what I call "the Moog organ and the pennywhistles" style of story creation.

It all comes down to, Do or don't the players exert preferences and influences over what the story is about? And I mean ABOUT, with protagonists and issues and passions and all that Egri stuff.


I think that this goes beyond an acceptable personal definition of what a story is "about," and into the realm of a silly one.  Plenty (not all, but plenty) of novels and whatnot are about their plots.  Sure, they've got themes and issues and passions and whatnot, but their reason for being is their plots.

But, anyhow, I'd argue that yes, the players do exert an influence on such intangibles.


On the one hand, if they do, then you have classic Narrativism with the players happening to use only Drama mechanics. This is fine. The mechanisms are there, and they use them, and all is just as described under the Narrativism text. When you refer to "story driving," they're doing just that - but they sure as hell CANNOT be only in Actor Stance when they do it.


You assert that they can not be in Actor stance when they do this, but don't back it up at all.  I thought that I'd done at least a mediocre job of explaining why they might be in Actor mode the entire time, but perhaps not.  Once more, then:

A player (let's call him "Bob") plays a character (let's call him "Conan") in fully Actor mode -- heck, maybe immersed.  He has, perhaps, no interest whatsoever in story or narrativist play or perhaps he does, but likes to take a back seat in it.  He and the group are dealing with what I, the GM, consider the main conflict of the moment, their attempt to depose the false Duke.  In what I consider a fairly throw-away, side moment, Conan meets a cousin of his, who is supposed to be their informant.  The informant betrays them to the Duke in a way that's inconveniancing but not terribly deadly.  The cousin, when he realizes that his double-cross has failed, high-tails it out of town.  My expectation is that the characters will try another avenue to depose the Duke.

Bob, through whatever unknowable, black-box process goes on in his head, decides, instead, to drop everything and track down his cousin.  Conan (not Bob!) states that betrayal within a family is the worst of crimes, or is otherwise deeply offended.  Reactively, I deepen the cousin's character, add nuances to his reasons for betrayal, make him more sympathetic, and play up the conflict of family loyalties versus other concerns.  This turns into several play sessions worth of material.

I submit to you that this constitutes Bob driving the story, and that he need not break Actor stance to do so.  He may not even recognize it as anything other than pure Simulationism, for that matter.  But, for me, it's recognizably shared control over the "story," albeit limited shared control.

Now, this may be a construct.  I know that some of my players go into Author stance -- for example, one of my players told me a session or two ago that he was feeling uncomfortable, because his character ought to lock up another PC and throw away the key, while he, the player, was not comfortable doing so.  (I told him, in this case, not to worry about the player-level issue -- that I would keep the other player entertained as necessary, in case anyone's interested).  But others of my players may be purely Actor-stance types of people.  Certainly, some of them seem willing to do things which I don't consider very interesting because it's in-character for them to do so.

[ Edit to fix messed-up quoting style. ]

[ This Message was edited by: Epoch on 2001-10-17 13:06 ]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2001, 09:23:00 AM »

Hey Mike,

This is tricky, because I cannot, either in good conscience OR with any claim to rigor, claim to say what is happening with people in your play group.

I'll stick to what my experience, with all the advantages and limitations implied by that term, leads me to think about Bob. My call is that Bob as a source of "story," enough to matter to any retrospective degree, is a construct. However, a lot of things can lead to real-people doing real-things that look a hell of a lot like Bob.

These things include (separately):

1) Cues and priorities from the GM and perhaps other players are subtly transmitted to Bob during play, and Bob equates "good play" with receiving and transforming these cues into character decisions. Illusionist play groups, in my experience, are sustainable to the degree that these processes are well-developed.

Or,
2) The black-box process referred to in your example is itself straightforward author-Narrativist behavior. Nothing about my definitions relies on "conscious" processes, whatever that means anyway. Here we'd have hidden Author Stance, kept under the blanket, and then its decisions being "carried out" looking like Actor Stance.

Or,
3) Dumb luck does exist. The hair up Bob's butt regarding Conan's decision, if it is indeed arbitrary and not #2 with a mask on, happens to coincide and "turn out to be" story-facilitating.

In my experience, many role-players LIVE for the occurrence of #3. Producing story without thinking about it! How pure! How ... cool! But in practice, I see a hell of a lot of #1 occurring instead, with the eventual, attendant "emptiness" that Jesse has described so well.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2001, 09:34:00 AM »

In the case of the example, I'd say that the story only occured because the GM made a story of it. You are the Narrativist, here Mr. Sullivan, and that is why a story occurred. You admit that the plot otherwise was not intended to go that direction.

In this case you are making a story of the characters reactions as dictated by the player, not the players making a story.

BTW, this is my preferred mode of play Simulationist with the GM playing Narrativist enough to get some story out of it, and yet not damage too much my SOD. :smile:

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2001, 09:48:00 AM »

Good point, Mike, and probably one of the most common situations. Add that as #4 to my list, with all credit to you.

Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2001, 10:11:00 AM »

Hello, I would also like to say that I think Mike has hit a very heavy nail right on the head.  I happen to be in a very interesting period of RPG Theory study.  I'm in the mist of doing a lot of Narrativist reading while running a very gamist D&D3E game.  So I've been getting this really WIDE perspective effect that is quite interesting.

In any event my attention turned to White-Wolf's storyteller system and I've been wondering exactly how that system evolved.  Obviously the designers were very into story creation otherwise they would not have called it the Storyteller system and there wouldn't be all that stuff about ignoring rules if they got in the way of the story if the story wasn't their highest priority.  And yet almost everyone here agrees that the System does not support Narrativist play very well and that infact the entire White-Wolf line is very Simulationist in construct.  And a lot of games follow this mold.

What I think happened was a kind of 'bitter' GM revolution.  In any one group the GM is usually the one with the most creative energy and the players are largely reactive, clever types.  This is of course the stereotypical setup and not the be all end all of possibilities.  What I think happened was that all these GMs got more and more creative and became increasingly frustrated with the rules getting in the way of their creative drive.  Overt game balance in the PC vs. Opponenet sense fucks up their sense of pace.  Movement rules screws up their asthetic sense of action and so on.

If you look at the Storyteller system it's designed to support the GM's creativity while still feeding the players their 'gaining in power boost.'  It's almost sort of an arrogant design of, "well now the GM can concentrate on what HE really cares about which is a good story and those stupid players who wouldn't know a good story if it bit them on the ass can get their power trip which is all they're really interested in anyway."  Obviously this is not universally how it's played but I have a sneaking suspicision that it's how it was designed.  At least subconciously.

Narrativism was just the 'next step' so to speak in which that creative control is distributed among the players.  And probably is mostly a consequence of what happened when all those 'bitter' GMs tried to game together as group and suddenly wanted systems to help distribute that creative power.

All this of course is just wild speculation on my part but seems to make the most sense to me at least on some deep rooted psychological level.

Jesse
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TrizzlWizzl
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« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2001, 10:43:00 AM »

I'm not really sure what the point of this whole discussion is, but in response to the example I'd say kudos to the GM for allowing his player to be creatvie.  To me, that's what it's all about... a player taking the initiative in his own character's story and the GM having the flexibility to allow him to do so.

I'm not sure I'd say the GM was neccesarily being 'Narritivist' as one post seemed to claim.  I think he was being a good GM, seeing were his player wanted to go with what was already provided and letting him get his character some realization.

[ This Message was edited by: TrizzlWizzl on 2001-10-17 14:44 ]
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2001, 11:38:00 AM »

Hello TrizzleWizzle,

The point of this discussion is just to try to get some consensus on a particular GNS definition. As this is a forum all about GNS, that seems appropriate, no?

Anyhow, explicit giving of the sort of power that you speak of to players is a trait often associated with Narrativist play (almost a prerequisite). A lot of the people here are strongly attracted to Narrativism, and I think that you'll find a lot of the ideas interesting.

My post suggested that he was being Nrrativist, because it seemed to me that he was prioritizing story (which is essentially the definition of Narrativist). Mike Sullivan may certainly respond to the otherwise if I was off target. Mike?

Mike

[ This Message was edited by: Mike Holmes on 2001-10-17 15:41 ]
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Epoch
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« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2001, 02:04:00 PM »

I apologize for any confusion -- I was never trying to claim that the player was Narrativist.  He could be, and could be actively trying to get a story to happen, or he could be totally Simulationist and doesn't care so long as his SoD doesn't suffer, or he could be, as Ron suggests, someone who wants a story to "magically happen" around him while still behaving only as "my guy."

My point was, yes, that "I," the GM, am behaving in a Narrativist manner, there, in that I was giving or forcing story control into the hands of the player, and giving them input.

In other words, yes, Mike Holmes' summation is very accurate, albeit not a revelation to me -- he said what I'd been trying to say, but better.  :smile:

Note that I think that regardless of whether the player is covertly Narrativist, wants a story to "magically happen," or is truly Simulationist, this style of play can be satisfying for both the player and the GM.  Indeed, I suspect-but-do-not-know that there are a mix of modes amongst my actual players.  It seems to work well for us -- at least, the group came back enthusiastically after my last game and keep responding negatively when I ask if they have any complaints.
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TrizzlWizzl
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« Reply #8 on: October 17, 2001, 02:26:00 PM »

Quote

Note that I think that regardless of whether the player is covertly Narrativist, wants a story to "magically happen," or is truly Simulationist, this style of play can be satisfying for both the player and the GM.  


I agree.  So why then, is it so important to label what you did within the confines of the GNS model?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: October 17, 2001, 02:43:00 PM »

Mike S,

It all comes down to that satisfaction issue. Is Bob happy? Sure, because he's Bob. But now, looking across the spectrum of play and experiences, I see differently. The relationship between My-Guy players and Keep-Adjusting-to-Story GM is not especially stable.

Your game may be an exception balanced on that knife-edge. I hope it stays there as long as you enjoy it.

However, again and again, I hear this mode of play described - and then the rumblings begin, eventually, as players feel railroaded one too many times, or the GM feels isolated (in story-making terms), or any number of other discontinuities add up. I do not predict that this will happen to you. You may have hit the sweet spot and run it forever.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: October 17, 2001, 02:43:00 PM »

TW,
Evidently you are mightily concerned about the utility of GNS per se. Please begin a thread about this topic, if you would like.

Best,
Ron
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Epoch
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« Reply #11 on: October 17, 2001, 03:13:00 PM »

TW -

This thread exists because I was (and am) challenging Ron's conception of The Big Problem With White Wolf Games.

Ron -

I dunno.  I haven't just experienced this with my group (which I've been playing with for, about 21 months now), but some previous groups as well (including being the player and not the GM).  That's not to say that some of those groups didn't have problems and issues, but we never seemed to have irreconcilable differences or anything which caused us to feel it necessary to change our fundamental gaming style.  And, to all appearances, we did solve our problems, not just ignore them.

Now, I'm not saying that this mode of play is easy.  I've been roleplaying for essentially as long as I can remember (since I was 7.  I'm 24 now), and my current style represents a slow and steady change over those 17 years.  (Not all of it towards this style of play as some lofty pinnacle of the experience, of course -- I wandered down lots of different paths, and I may yet abandon this one).  But my experience is that it's more sustainable than you seem to think...  And not just for one alchemical group, but for a reasonably diverse subset of the gaming population.

I won't discount the idea that I'm just easy to please, though.  I do tend to be of the school that says that any roleplaying is better than no roleplaying, and I don't think that I've grown embittered about it just yet.  :razz:

Now, I am embittered about my inability to properly differentiate NPC's, but that's another matter altogether.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #12 on: October 18, 2001, 07:12:00 AM »

Hey Sullivan,

I am always startled by the similarities in our styles of play (not to metntion the Mike thing). I play nearly identically to how you do. The problem is that I do have some problems satisfying my players with a more Gamist bent; you may not have this sort of player. They seem to feel that my driving towards story takes some of the challenge out of the game (the standard problem). So, essentially we play a compromise. And everyone is moderately happy with it, though not ecstatic. This is the sort of problem that Ron is talking about, I think, though, in some groups I've seen, it is much worse.

Actually, my problem is probably the reverse of what Ron has seen to be precise. He seems to have noted players wanting more story and GMs running games that are more Sim/Gam. But it's effectively the same problem.

To the extent that players may have multiple or shifting play desires, I'd speculate that at least a smidgin of compromise is necessary in every game, though. Even in Ron's Narrativist game with his Narrativist players, I'll bet there are moments where some player says to themselves, "That wasn't really all that realistic, even if it did make for a good story." Or moments when they long a bit more Gamist challenge to appear.

This is why I keep emphasizing talking with your group before hand to get everyone's expectations on the same wavelength. Then, even if a player has a particular unsatisfied longing as above, they can understand that the current game is not about that. Which goes a long way to creating satisfaction with what is happening, IMHO.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: October 18, 2001, 08:01:00 AM »

Hey Mike S,

Correct me if I'm wrong, but, if I'm not, then you are saying, "Your claim doesn't match my experience."

If so, then I need to change my angle of response.

Based on your description, I think you and your group practice Illusionism, and, by your account, to the satisfaction of all involved.

Regardless of my own, personal doubts about Illusionism's sustainability - like you, I ran such a game for YEARS, so I'm not merely theorizing - it is a recognizable and straightforward form of play.

However, it is not the Impossible Thing. It is a SOLUTION to the Impossible Thing, based on player willingness to keep their "My-Guy" actions within certain parameters.

I do not think your experience of play, *as I understand it,* refutes the Impossible Thing, but rather demonstrates a way to cope with it. My asterisked phrase in the previous sentence is very signficant; it indicates that this is strictly a personal judgment based on your account, and not some kind of clairvoyance on my part.

Best,
Ron
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Epoch
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« Reply #14 on: October 18, 2001, 09:54:00 AM »

Holmes -

Yeah, my players don't seem to be heavily gamist.  One of them perhaps a bit more than the others, but I think he's still more a simulationist than anything else.

While I've been simplifying my own style for purposes of discussion, I'm not without gamist influences as well, so that probably helps.

Ron -

You sound like you're trying to take steps to ensure that I don't get offended by what you write, so, to ease your peace of mind, I haven't felt even mildly offended in your last several posts.

Could our play style be Illusionism?  Sure -- might be.  Like I've said several times, I make no real effort to figure out what's going on in my players' heads.  I quiz them on whether they're happy with how the game's going, whether they feel their character needs to get more involved, but I don't ask them things on this kind of theoretical level.

If it is Illusionism, they're picking up on some awfully impressive subconscious hints -- there have been times when I've been so flabbergasted by an IC action that I was stuttering for 15 minutes.

As I've tried to hint throughout this thread, my own opinion is that my players don't all approach things the same, and I think that's a big strength of this style of play.  Some of the players may be Illusionists.  Some may be Simulationists (albeit probably not extreme ones).  Some may be Narrativists who are willing to be covert in their non-Actor stances.  Some may be whatever you want to call Simulationists who want a story to "magically happen."  My point is and has been that all of those people can be satisfied within this style of play.

And yes, it doesn't invalidate the Big Problem.  I do agree that you've identified an issue with the Storyteller games-as-written.  However, the rhetoric in your essay, I think, is somewhat imprecise as to the exact nature of the Big Problem (for example, you mention the "GM as author," and there are, I think, too many interpretations of what it means to be an "author" for that to be a good way of defining the problem), and fails to recognize some of the workable solutions to it that are closer to the style of play encouraged by those games.
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