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Author Topic: Psychological simulationism  (Read 3295 times)
Clinton R. Nixon

Posts: 2624

« on: May 10, 2001, 09:33:00 AM »

In the Feng Shui thread, it was asked if any thought had been given to psychological simulationism in RPGs.

My three examples to rip apart would be:

The White Wolf merit/flaw system

Note: I firmly believe that the World of Darkness games are some of the most simulationist games out there. I find them an excellent example of Simulationism.

That said, I think the psychological merit/flaw system in WW games are a valid attempt at creating a psychological realism. It is quite possible to create characters with a will of iron, or someone with a shattered, schizophrenic mind. However, the realism stops at character creation, as these traits are used (generally) only when role-played by the player. There's no strict enforcement system built into the games.

Call of Cthulhu sanity

This one's the classic. I wouldn't call it simulationist, though--or at least not good simulationism. The spiraling-downward Sanity score is in no way a reflection of reality. It does somewhat make sense in the context of the Cthulhu Mythos literature and the concepts of psychology in the 1920's, where mental aberrations were a (yes/no) sort of checkbox.

I'd actually call this more gamist than anything--it's a delicate balancing act in CoC between learning more about the Mythos (winning) without going insane (losing.)

Unknown Armies' sanity system

This system, composed of several meters of sanity on different subjects (Self, Unnatural, Violence), is an outgrowth of the antiquitated CoC system, and, in my opinion, a marvel of modern simulationism. While a set of game rules has little hope of actually simulating the intricate workings of a human mind, this system does manage to give the verisimulitude of being mentally affected adversely by conflicts in the character's world.

Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2001, 09:57:00 AM »

Hey Clinton,

I think you're getting too hung-up on "reality" in this post. Sanity in Call of Cthulhu does emulate what happens to characters in the Lovecraft literature, so it's "on-target-genre," which is sufficient in that department.

What makes it (and the game) Simulationist, though, is that the player and GM are "driving" the system beginning with proposed actions, NOT by exercising judgments UPON the system (Director and Author mechanics in Narrativism; strategic mechanics in Gamism). Sanity loss is something that happens TO you (like losing hit points), not something you work with and springboard off of.

More generally, we see several basic ways of dealing with character psychology in RPGs (I listed this one time on GO, but I can't remember where - God damn it).

- None at all. The PC characterization and decision-making are entirely up to player decisions at all times.
- Defined by adjectives during character creation or acquired during play (psychological disadvantages in Champions and GURPS and the tons of other merit/flaw systems derived from these). Often these are negatively reinforced; e.g., kill a guy when you have Code vs. Killing, and you lose experience points. *Alignment falls into this category too.*
- Rated by some sort of score (Sanity in Call of Cthulhu and Shattered Dreams; the madness meters in Unknown Armies); this one can be subcategorized by scores that DO affect subsequent decision-making (Humanity in Cyberpunk, Hardened/Failed ratings in Unknown Armies) and those that DON'T (Humanity in Sorcerer)

My most important point in this post is that ANY and ALL of these may be viable - in various different ways, for various different reasons - across all of G/N/S in game design. There might be some correspondences that we now need to work out, but I do not think this thread is actually confined to Simulationism, at all.

Jared A. Sorensen

Posts: 1463


« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2001, 12:59:00 PM »

But in a lot of these games, Essence/Humanity/whatever is really just a clumsy way of achieving game balance -- witness the rampant diablerist who eventually must turn into a NPC by virtue of a 0 Humanity...or the heavily-cybered Shadowrunner who is in danger of dying because their Essence is getting close to 0.

I think that in WW's games, Banality, Humanity, Rage, Taint and Paradox are all good ideas but too often are just handled as balancing agents rather than story facilitators/drivers.

jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
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