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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: clehrich on December 03, 2004, 10:18:00 AM



Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
Post by: clehrich on December 03, 2004, 10:18:00 AM
In a couple of running threads, I’ve emphasized a radical divide between textual media and RPGs.  Ron has suggested that this may be dragging at least one of those threads away from its focus, and that as I have a lot to say maybe it would be worth my just stating it head-on.  So here goes.

First, in case someone searches for this later on, the threads in question:
    A Wild and Untamed Thing (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=13520)
    Revision and Interpretation (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=13558)[/list:u]
    First Principles

    The written word stands in a peculiar relation to the spoken, partly because of intrinsic reasons and partly because of the history of conceptions of writing in our culture.  I’m primarily going to focus on the intrinsic issues, because they don’t require a lot of background to debate, but I’ll mention some of the other points as I go along.

    When I speak, it is a normative convention that you not speak at the same time, although of course we know this is violated all the time.  But in what we might call the normative spoken situation, that of rational discourse, the speaker dominates the moment in time when he speaks.  When I have concluded, it is now your turn to speak, at which time you dominate and I am supposed to shut up.

    Further, when I speak my linguistic production exists in time and appears serially.  In order to know what I’m saying, you have to listen to it in order and at that time.  After the fact, only memory exists: if you misremember what I said, there is nothing to correct you.

    In addition, in an oral situation normally a conversational model applies.  If you don’t understand what I’m saying, you can ask for clarification, and I will construct a new linguistic production, a new saying-my-point as it were.  And over the course of the conversation, it seems that we will likely eventually come to some sort of clarity: we will agree that we have understood one another, whether we agree or disagree about the content.

    None of this is true of written text.  

    There is a normative convention to the reading situation, which says that you will read left-to-right and top-to-bottom, in that order (if we are talking about English, anyway).  But there is nothing to control this: you can, if you like, read backwards.  Of course, it may not make a lot of sense, but I can’t shout at you for violating the norm the way I can if you start to interrupt my speaking.

    Written text does not appear serially or in time.  It is[/b], a fixed object, a thing to be dealt with as you choose.  After you have read, you may read again.  You may read pieces, then put the book down and come back to it.  Any seriality or temporal bounding in text comes from the manner in which you choose to approach the text, not from the text itself.

    No conversational model holds for reading texts.  If you do not understand, the author is not present in the text to reply.  All you can do is try to read it again, to converse with yourself about the text.  You can of course write marginalia, or shout at the book, or write criticism or a letter to the author.  But none of this changes the text itself.

    Now all of this is generally accepted in the many academic discourses about writing, which range from linguistic philosophy to deconstruction to literary criticism to semiotics.  What was relatively new a century or so ago, largely in the work of Nietzsche, was the realization that this meant that there was no fixed meaning in texts, that text has no means of grounding itself because of its autonomy.  Thus “God is dead” is in part the moral or ethical implication of the realization of this total absence of fixity in text.  And this caused, in the 1960s and beyond, the various dramatic pronouncements about “the death of the author”: the point being that once an author has composed a text, the meaning becomes divorced from whatever the author intended because there is no means by which the text can incorporate such intentions.

    A Passing Note

    Computer-developed textual orality, you might say, such as bulletin boards like the Forge, have introduced new wrinkles into this old situation.  Some philosophical work has been done on this, but the main result as I understand it has been the recognition that the situation produced is really the classical textual problem which Jacques Derrida pinpointed and indelibly labeled the logic of the “supplement”.

    In essence, the point is that we all really recognize that orality is not actually the absolute communication we really desire, the meeting of minds, a point Plato already noticed.  So what we do is to supplement our orality to convince ourselves that really, we are communicating.  We keep on speaking, again and again, until eventually we claim that we understand one another.  But in fact we have no evidence of this: the only way we could have evidence is for one of us to produce yet another speaking — and that is just as open to interpretation.  It merely supplements one text with yet another, and so on.

    So the result is that it’s all really text, even when it seems not to be.  As Derrida put is, “Il n’y a pas dehors-texte” — there is nothing outside the text.

    Reflexivity in Fantasy Text

    One result of these various realizations has been the increased development of conscious reflexivity in text.  In the sense I mean this here, we have a lot of written texts which reflect upon their own status as texts, as peculiarly absent and autonomous objects lacking fixed meaning.  It has been said that the author “haunts” the text, and indeed one common trope of this reflexivity has been the literature of fantasy, particularly Magic Realism but elsewhere as well, in which the author works to capitalize on this strange absence to produce a sensation in the reader of disjuncture and alienation.  M. John Harrison’s Viriconium books and stories are good examples of this effect, as are Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of Arete and The Urth of the New Sun and John Crowley’s Little, Big and Ægypt.

    RPGs and Text

    RPGs arise within a conversational, oral situation.  Thus the haunting absence of language is not apparent the way it is in text.  It’s there, of course, because it always is in language, but it seems as though we understand one another.

    Furthermore, in RPGs we have all sorts of modes of supplementing the certainty of understanding.  Mechanics decide whether an event occurs, or the GM decides by fiat, or the group comes to an agreement.  Therefore we feel that we know whether the event has or has not occurred, that understanding and agreement have been reached.

    At the same time, we know from first principles that language is not capable of such certainty.  We have agreed on something, but what?  In order to answer this, I need to get a little bit technical for just a moment; I won’t go too far, but a little detail will be necessary.

    Syuzhet and Fabula

    [/i]Victor Shklovsky, one of the founders of Russian formalism, made a distinction between syuzhet and fabula that is importantly applicable here.  I’d like to point out, in passing, that such formalism was an essential groundwork for Vladimir Propp’s work on folklore, Roman Jakobson’s work on linguistics, and Claude Lévi-Strauss’s work on myth and ritual in the “savage mind.”  All of these are applicable to gaming, though I believe Lévi-Strauss is the most so; I’ll get back to that briefly at the end.

    [Incidentally, I have no idea how to pronounce “syuzhet” – I always hear it pronounced “soo-zhay,” like the French sujêt, but maybe someone who speaks Russian could help?]

    We can roughly translate fabula as “story” and syuzhet as “plot” or “discourse”.  To take one of many examples, the fabula of The Scarlet Letter is the story behind the events of the novel; that is, it is the complete story of what “really happened.”  But the novel does not actually reveal the fabula: we never know exactly what Hester has or has not done.  What the novel reveals, what the novel actually is, is syuzhet.  Thus fabula is the meaning we grasp after when reading a work of textual fiction, but it may or may not be available within the text.

    To take another famous example, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, we never actually know what has happened at all: is the governess crazy?  are there really ghosts?  We never know this.  And the attraction of the novel is in part the fact that we do not know.  The disparity between syuzhet and fabula creates a sensation of fascination and depth, of alienation and interest.  Once again, fantasy (for this is a kind of fantasy) often plays upon this disparity.

    By way of contrast, Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne (I’m working from the film here, but I understand that it’s pretty similar) in the end tells us what the fabula is: yes, the father did abuse the daughter, so almost certainly Dolores’ memory of him as an abusive beast is accurate.  This gives us a nice sense of closure, but makes the book a very different thing from The Turn of the Screw.

    RPGs, Syuzhet and Fabula

    I claim that the “text” that is constructed and negotiated in RPG play is fabula.  It’s the “what really happened” that we must negotiate.  After the game is over, we can debate and argue about the meaning, importance, or whatever of this fabula.

    In Narrativist play, the object is to construct a fabula that is morally and personally significant, by orienting it around a Premise.  This creates Story Now — or better, Fabula Now.

    In Simulationist and Gamist play, the criteria of value are not intrinsically rooted in the aesthetic qualities of this fabula, but in other aspects of that fabula: whether it is challenging, whether it adequately represents the source material, and so on.  Oddly, Simulationism actually has a further criterion, which is that the syuzhet not interfere with this formation, but that’s a subject for another essay entirely.

    Now all of this means that the disjuncture between syuzhet and fabula is not an intrinsic structure in RPGs.  Unless we formulate special rules that permit the violation of fabula in the syuzhet, it really makes no difference how we produce the fabula, so long as we come to agreement about it.

    Of course, the syuzhet is where much of the affective dimension of play occurs, the fun value and so forth, just as it is in literature.  We can recite the fabula as series of bald events after the fact, but without the experiential syuzhet that constructed it the recitation is not equivalent to the actual play.  So doesn’t this put RPGs back into the realm of the literary?

    Not at all.  What we have here is very peculiar, and I think relatively distinct, a special (though not unique) quality to gaming.  We have a double layer of syuzhet.  One is the construction of the fabula in mechanical terms (the die-rolling, the decision-making of arbitration, and so on) as well as the special social performances that are part of any human interaction (body language, eating and drinking, etc.).  The other is everything else that goes into the construction of fabula through exploration in gaming, the affective dimension.  In reciting the fabula after the fact, we make an automatic distinction between these two layers quite automatically, in most cases: we retell the fabula and try to pick up as much of the affective dimension of syuzhet as possible, but we usually drop as much of the first layer as possible.  Certain exceptions do arise — a very high roll at a critical juncture, a very funny bodily noise, etc. — but in the main we recite only the fabula with the secondary affective dimension of syuzhet.  In other words, a post facto retelling attempts to reconstruct the game as a work of literature.

    Now all of this entails that it is difficult, if not perhaps impossible, to approximate the reflexivity of postmodern fantasy within RPGs.  The inaccessibility of fabula which is central to such works is simply not possible for us, because without fabula there is no social agreement whatever and thus no game.  To render same effects possible, it seems to me, we would have to seek absence elsewhere—quite possibly between the two layers of syuzhet, though there are certainly other possibilities.

    The Problem of Myth

    By way of conclusion, I’d like to take up the Tolkien problem again for a minute.  I think it is not too gross a distortion to say that Lévi-Strauss argued that myth is very largely constructed out of an enormously complex system of fabulation (the construction of fabula) to which the syuzhet is not especially relevant.  More accurately, he would I think say that the syuzhet is terribly important but almost never accessible to the ethnographer or anthropologist.  Further, in order to understand even the fabula of myth it is necessary to make comparisons, and syuzhet is precisely what is not comparable among myths, in the same way that Ulysses and The Odyssey are really not comparable in a simple sense except at the layer of fabula, at which they become largely the same and their literary value (which resides in syuzhet) is lost; therefore it is necessary to analyze at the level of fabula.  This of course entails stripping myth of a good deal of its affective dimension, but it’s a question of getting much of what’s going on instead of getting nothing at all.

    Now I think what Tolkien (who was no Structuralist, if he even read Lévi-Strauss which I doubt) was trying to do was to recapitulate the special mode of fabulation that occurs in a certain kind of myths, primarily the Norse sagas and eddas—which I would argue aren’t really myths either, but works of literature, but that’s a side issue.  Insofar as he succeeded, it was by reconfiguring textual language to approximate these ends.  We can debate the nature of his success elsewhere.

    But one interesting point for us is that if fabula is the essential core of myth, in a way that it is not in literature, that is also the case in RPGs: we have seen that fabula must be formulated in RPGs or we have no game at all.

    Now based on this peculiar fact of RPGs, and the common fascination with essentially myth-oriented source material (Tolkien, sagas, Greek epic, Arthurian material, etc.), I would like to suggest that RPGs are really seeking to construct myth, not literature at all.  I am currently working on an essay that gets into the details of how and why this works, and the degree to which success might be possible.  But for the moment, I would like to toss the idea into the air and suggest that if this is the case, it explains exactly why so much discourse about gaming (here on the Forge as well as elsewhere) is so insistent on its ability to create stories and to generate “real” literature and art.  

    In our culture, myth has essentially been lost as a form; it simply doesn’t exist.  The only thing we’ve got in its place is essentially literary-like forms that have this potentially radical disparity between fabula and syuzhet (literature, film, etc.).  And so we think we’re striving to do what they do, but ultimately we never really succeed because our art form is not constructed that way.  I’d like to see gaming come to clarity on what it actually is, and what it can do that is special and unique to it.  I believe this is the mythic dimension, and a kind of revival of myth as an art form.  I do not think that gaming can ever really produce myths, but I do think that by understanding its relationship to myth, and the dialectical relationship between myth and literature, our art can generate something uniquely its own that is of real value.


    Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
    Post by: Matt Snyder on December 03, 2004, 11:20:40 AM
    Fascinating, Chris!

    I got all excited when I read about fabula and syuzhet, but reading on I got confused. I was thinking that syuzhet could be the shared imaginary space -- the events we collectively picture in our minds together as we play and afterwards. But, a transcript of play would be the fabula -- the whole story of what happened.

    I then thought we could say that revisions happen to the syuzhet, but not the fabula. Cool!

    However, you later points seem to indicate that the fabula is not what I thought it was. So, I've confused myself. Any ideas on this line of thinking? I don't want to get too committed to those terms, because I've never encountered them before. So, if I'm misapplying them, correct me. We can use other terms or phrases -- that's fine with me either way.

    EDIT: Now, I'm thinking we can say we revise the "second layer" fabula, but not the "first layer" fabula -- yes?

    Quote
    In reciting the fabula after the fact, we make an automatic distinction between these two layers quite automatically, in most cases: we retell the fabula and try to pick up as much of the affective dimension of syuzhet as possible, but we usually drop as much of the first layer as possible.


    Interestingly, the Forge, and Ron especially, has made an effort to include the first layer when recounting these "stories." He rightly acknowledged that without this material we (1) knew nothing about what the game was really "about" and (2) without this first layer, we utterly miss what makes role-playing unique.

    (That's why I said, in another post, that I think this common lack of recognizing role-playing as a unique form is more of a pot-hole than an abyss. Of course, that's only a matter of perspective.)

    Also...

    Quote
    Reflexivity in Fantasy Text

    One result of these various realizations has been the increased development of conscious reflexivity in text. In the sense I mean this here, we have a lot of written texts which reflect upon their own status as texts, as peculiarly absent and autonomous objects lacking fixed meaning. It has been said that the author “haunts” the text, and indeed one common trope of this reflexivity has been the literature of fantasy, particularly Magic Realism but elsewhere as well, in which the author works to capitalize on this strange absence to produce a sensation in the reader of disjuncture and alienation. M. John Harrison’s Viriconium books and stories are good examples of this effect, as are Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of Arete and The Urth of the New Sun and John Crowley’s Little, Big and Ægypt.



    Plainly, I don't understand this, and I want to. Can you provide additional clarification? (Who knows if I actually will understand that, either. Derrida would be so proud! Heh.) Maybe you can use Urth of the New Sun as an example I'm somewhat familiar with?


    Title: Re: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
    Post by: John Kim on December 03, 2004, 12:15:31 PM
    Well, I have to say that I'm pretty appalled at this.  I took on the issue of fabula and syuzhet in my essay for "Beyond Role and Play", Immersive Story: A View of Role-Played Drama.  There I used Gérard Genette's terms instead: discourse = syuzhet and story = fabula.  However, they have roughly the same meaning.  I would highly suggest this and it's predecessor, Story and Narrative Paradigms in RPGs.  Both of these have visual diagrams of the relation between discourse and story which may be helpful (and the latter has diagrams for tabletop role-playing as well).  

    Quote from: clehrich
    I claim that the “text” that is constructed and negotiated in RPG play is fabula.  It’s the “what really happened” that we must negotiate.  After the game is over, we can debate and argue about the meaning, importance, or whatever of this fabula.
    ...
    Now all of this means that the disjuncture between syuzhet and fabula is not an intrinsic structure in RPGs.  Unless we formulate special rules that permit the violation of fabula in the syuzhet, it really makes no difference how we produce the fabula, so long as we come to agreement about it.

    Well, I am violently opposed to this.  What you're saying is that everything that happens during the actual game is irrelevant -- i.e. what dice are rolled, what the real people say, what the setting is.  That the "text" is the imaginary storyline which was produced.  So regardless of whether I play out a love scene in detail or just say "she seduces him" -- it's the same "text" to RPGs.  And regardless of whether I use D&D or Amber, the text is the fictional facts, not what was actually done at the gaming table.  

    First of all, there is no such thing as "what really happened".  The individuals playing will all have different visions of exactly what happened.  The "Shared Imaginary Space" (or shared diagesis) is a facade, an illusion.  Imagination is never shared -- it is communicated through imperfect symbols between individuals.  Markus Montola argued this in his essay "Role-Playing as Interactive Construction of Subjective Diegeses" in "As Larp Grows Up" (2003).  

    That communication -- i.e. what actually happens among the real people at the table -- is vitally important.  There is no telepathy which happens at the gaming table.  Mechanics, voices, maps, music -- all of these are part of the art of role-playing.  These all create the discourse, the syuzhet, of play.  

    Quote from: clehrich
    What we have here is very peculiar, and I think relatively distinct, a special (though not unique) quality to gaming.  We have a double layer of syuzhet.  One is the construction of the fabula in mechanical terms (the die-rolling, the decision-making of arbitration, and so on) as well as the special social performances that are part of any human interaction (body language, eating and drinking, etc.).  The other is everything else that goes into the construction of fabula through exploration in gaming, the affective dimension.  In reciting the fabula after the fact, we make an automatic distinction between these two layers quite automatically, in most cases: we retell the fabula and try to pick up as much of the affective dimension of syuzhet as possible, but we usually drop as much of the first layer as possible.  Certain exceptions do arise — a very high roll at a critical juncture, a very funny bodily noise, etc. — but in the main we recite only the fabula with the secondary affective dimension of syuzhet.  In other words, a post facto retelling attempts to reconstruct the game as a work of literature.

    You're trying to make an arbitrary distinction here over the layers of the syuzhet.  But this same thing applies in literature.  For example, a written story may contain many asides by the author or narrator which are not part of describing the fictional action.  These are non-affective, but they are nonetheless an important part of the discourse.  

    I'm going to be harsh here for a moment.  This attitude seems typical to me of self-hatred in the arts.  For example, an early comic book writer might be ashamed of the chinsy four-color art and try to say that despite what is actually on the page, the story was really good.  In the same way, gamers are often ashamed of rolling dice and written character sheets.  They try to say that these aren't really what's going on -- that they're irrelevant.  They then make a big deal out of re-telling what happened without that stuff.  

    If role-playing is going to get anywhere, we have to accept what our text is.  Our text is what actually happens at the table.  The re-telling is not role-playing -- role-playing is what happens in the first place.


    Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
    Post by: clehrich on December 03, 2004, 12:29:13 PM
    Quote from: Matt Snyder
    I got all excited when I read about fabula and syuzhet, but reading on I got confused. I was thinking that syuzhet could be the shared imaginary space -- the events we collectively picture in our minds together as we play and afterwards. But, a transcript of play would be the fabula -- the whole story of what happened.
    I'm not entirely sure these terms map like this, but my sense is that syuzhet should be something sort of like SIS -- but SIS in its totality, including all that it makes us think or feel.  Fabula is very much smaller.  To take the transcript example, suppose we go through and cut everything except the final decided events.  So to take the example from your cross-thread about revisions, we'd cut everything except: "Throd takes the candy."  That's fabula, sort of.

    When we go and reconstruct events in the retelling after the fact, fabula is the core we don't mess with.  It seems somehow a violation to retell events such that Throd doesn't take the candy, even if the total process of making the game happened debated this question intensively.  But of the remainder, that is everything in the game (SIS and otherwise) apart from this core of "really happened" events, everything is optional, a subjective matter of prioritization.
    Quote
    Now, I'm thinking we can say we revise the "second layer" fabula, but not the "first layer" fabula -- yes?
    Oops, unclear referents, Chris.  <whack!>  There are two layers of syuzhet, not of fabula.  Fabula is just the "what actually happened" at the core, the purest "narrative" without any purpose or meaning at all.  Throd takes the candy.  The girl cries.  Throd laughs.  The girl runs off.  That's fabula.

    Syuzhet in toto would in theory include absolutely everything that happened during play.  I mean everything, not just "Um, I take the necklace." "No, that sucks, how about you take the candy?" "Okay, I do that."  Also stuff like:
      Dave stuffs a handful of goldfish in his mouth.  Dave swallows.  Phil fake-burps.  George: "Ho ho, can we get back to the game?" Dave: "Um, I take the necklace." Phil rolls his eyes: "No, that sucks, how about you take the candy?" George nods vigorously, and judiciously pulls the goldfish away from Dave so he'll pay attention.  Dave cocks his head, thinking.  Dave: "Okay, I do that."....[/list:u]and so on.  Absolutely everything.

      But this doesn't include a distinction we actually make quite naturally, between what "counts" and what doesn't.  Even if we're trying to construct some sort of transcript, or a very rich account of what happened, we probably pass over Dave being disgusting.  So there's two layers here.

      The thing I'm not at all sure about is where system happens.  It seems to me that in retelling, it's usually in layer 1, along with burping and eating.  But it sometimes crosses the line, as with critical rolls or something that were exciting precisely at the level of gameplay.  That could also happen with the burping, but it's less likely.  So there's clearly a blurring here of layers.

      So to reformulate from the example:
      Syuzhet 1 (unavailable in literature)
      Dave stuffs a handful of goldfish in his mouth.  Dave swallows.  Phil fake-burps.  George: "Ho ho, can we get back to the game?" Dave: "Um, I take the necklace." Phil rolls his eyes: "No, that sucks, how about you take the candy?" George nods vigorously, and judiciously pulls the goldfish away from Dave so he'll pay attention.  Dave cocks his head, thinking.  Dave: "Okay, I do that."

      Syuzhet 2 (=syuzhet more or less in Shklovsky's sense)
      Throd, in a moment of greed and viciousness, grabbed the candy from the starving orphan.

      Fabula (not always accessible in literature)
      Throd takes the candy.[/list:u]This is very imprecise, but may give the gist.  What's missing from the example is any serious affective content, as in how the players feel about the events and what it's all really about, which belongs in syuzhet 2 and is in fact the most important part of it.

      Does that help?
      Quote
      Interestingly, the Forge, and Ron especially, has made an effort to include the first layer when recounting these "stories." He rightly acknowledged that without this material we (1) knew nothing about what the game was really "about" and (2) without this first layer, we utterly miss what makes role-playing unique.
      Taking "first layer" to mean the affective dimension, the stuff other than the burping and farting and mostly the raw mechanics, yes.  Exactly.  And in literature, that's exactly what syuzhet is: the stuff other than fabula that makes the text what it really is.  You can't retell The Turn of the Screw and just drop all of the syuzhet, because in that extreme case you don't really have anything left.  All there is is the affective dimension, what Shklovsky would think of as the literary fabric of the text.  What we definitely do not have in literature is the burping/farting layer, the "how I got there" part.  If Joyce was sitting around in the nude and picking his nose while writing Ulysses, this isn't part of the fabric of the text.

      I suppose you could call the three layers Authorship, Syuzhet, and Fabula, and get away with it with the lit crit gang.  Authorship isn't available in literature, is the point.  Syuzhet is what makes fabula meaningful, makes us care about it.

      In RPGs, we do have both layers and the fabula, always, which isn't the case in literature.  RPGs are in that sense very much thicker than literature.  And yes, by this logic retelling the fabula without including the affective layer of the syuzhet is not going to get at the creative agenda that made it meaningful.  Retelling it without the burping and farting, however, does not appear to make much difference.
      Quote
      (That's why I said, in another post, that I think this common lack of recognizing role-playing as a unique form is more of a pot-hole than an abyss. Of course, that's only a matter of perspective.)
      I meant an abyss between RPGs and literature, not an abyss in the middle of the road to understanding.  It's a pothole in the road, but an absolute divide between literature and RPGs as artistic forms.
      Quote
      Reflexivity in Fantasy Text
      Hmm.  Okay, well, you know how Severian never forgets anything?  That's very strange, even in his world.  But the thing is that texts never forget.  They're fixed objects; they can't just forget things, have them edited out.  What Wolfe is doing is playing with the fact that as readers, we encounter Severian's world through a lens that allows us to go back and re-read if we've forgotten, and that allows us also to go back and re-read from the start if we want to dig for other things, and so on.  Normal people cannot do this -- but Severian can.  And does.  Which is very strange.  And part of the point.

      By contrast, the Soldier of Arete (I forget his name off the top of my head -- Lycus, maybe?) always forgets.  So he has to write everything down in a journal, which he has to read every morning just so he will know who the hell he is and where and when.  And what we're reading is his journal -- but sometimes he doesn't get around to reading all of it in the morning, so his sense of where he is is off from ours; we have to edit the text in our minds to understand what the hell he's talking about.

      Does that help?


      Title: Re: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: clehrich on December 03, 2004, 12:39:42 PM
      Quote from: John Kim
      Well, I am violently opposed to this.  What you're saying is that everything that happens during the actual game is irrelevant -- i.e. what dice are rolled, what the real people say, what the setting is.  That the "text" is the imaginary storyline which was produced.  So regardless of whether I play out a love scene in detail or just say "she seduces him" -- it's the same "text" to RPGs.  And regardless of whether I use D&D or Amber, the text is the fictional facts, not what was actually done at the gaming table.
      I didn't say that, John.  I said that insofar as we can talk about textuality in RPGs, all we have is fabula.  And that is absolutely different from literature, because in literature all we have is syuzhet.  But in fact, we don't deal with RPGs as text at all -- we deal with them through all the layers you're talking about.  Of course we do.  But those are not textual layers -- they are conversational.  I am trying to undermine the notion that RPGs are a textual medium -- they aren't.  Insofar as they are, they are stripped of the vast majority of what is valuable or interesting about them, such as why we enjoy them or care about them.
      Quote
      You're trying to make an arbitrary distinction here over the layers of the syuzhet.  But this same thing applies in literature.  For example, a written story may contain many asides by the author or narrator which are not part of describing the fictional action.  These are non-affective, but they are nonetheless an important part of the discourse.
      Those asides are part of the text, part of syuzhet.  Viz. Tristram Shandy, which is nothing but an aside.  The distinction I'm making is exactly the same as the "ritualization" dimension I made in my ritual essay: we, the players, make an arbitrary distinction between what does and does not count.
      Quote
      I'm going to be harsh here for a moment.  This attitude seems typical to me of self-hatred in the arts.  For example, an early comic book writer might be ashamed of the chinsy four-color art and try to say that despite what is actually on the page, the story was really good.  In the same way, gamers are often ashamed of rolling dice and written character sheets.  They try to say that these aren't really what's going on -- that they're irrelevant.  They then make a big deal out of re-telling what happened without that stuff.
      I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about, John.  None.  You're claiming, apparently, that I'm denigrating RPGs for not being literature.  I am doing nothing of the sort.  I have, time and again, stressed that the form is distinctive, with its own characteristics and qualities, and that those qualities should be capitalized upon.  What I absolutely denigrate is the claim of the wannabe-author who desperately formulates special pleading to claim that his RPG production, the total experience of roleplaying, is a literary text.  That claim and that pleading is based on self-hatred.  It assumes that literary text is the only narrative "real art" and that only by claiming RPGs as literary text can they be "real art."  That is self-hatred.  It ain't literary text, period.  It is its own art form.  It can do things no literary text can do.  I cannot do some things that literary text can do.  Why is my denying that RPGs are literary texts self-hatred?


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: neelk on December 03, 2004, 01:41:45 PM
      Hi Chris, first thanks for making the effort to take this discussion somewhere good.

      Second, I basically completely disagree with you. :-)

      Basically, I don't think rpgs have a fabula. Another way of thinking about this is that I don't think there's any such thing as shared imaginative space. There's a whole bunch of stuff, most of which are inconsistent with each other and even with themselves -- here's a small selection:

        o the setting description in the rulebook,
        o the rules of the rpg,
        o the GM's notes,
        o the GM's improvisations and rulings during play,
        o the players' writeups of their PCs and background material,
        o each player's understanding of their PCs' motivations,
        o the actions players say their PCs are doing
        o the players' improvisations and understandings
        o any journals or logs any of the players or GM keep

      All of these are inconsistent, all of the time. The process of play is in large measure a negoatiation to resolve these inconsistencies moment-by-moment -- but such resolutions are NEVER final or total; we've just created more material that's potentially inconsistent with the rest. Play is a continuous process of citation, quotation, adaptation, and argumentation based on other texts, some of which we wrote and some of which we haven't, in written and spoken form.

      Personally, I find the notion that rpgs are more certain than, say, novels weird. A novel is usually the product of a solitary mind and is a unitary object; that's what makes it an interesting literary strategy for a novelist to meditate upon unknowability. By way of contrast, in an rpg we start in such a desperate and total state of uncertainty that it's artistically fascinating that we are able to have -any- unity at all.


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: Matt Snyder on December 03, 2004, 01:51:38 PM
      It helps, Chris. I'm still a little fuzzy on it, but mostly getting it. By that, I mean I suspect I wouldn't recognize it myself while reading a book, but sorta get it when its explained to me -- I hope I can think on it some more a better absorb the concept. And, then, recognize it in a text sometime.

      (And thanks for the other clarifications as well, by the way.)

      Ah! I just had a new thought on it, Chris. I may still be misunderstanding the matter, but bear with me.

      By creating Severian's memory and winking at the reader that the text understands "itself," Wolfe is creating meta-fiction (which I'm reasonably aware of in formal literature studies, but nowhere near as informed as you seem to be). That is, he's writing a text that is about text and what it means. All well and good (though my man John Gardner hates that stuff -- another aside, sorry).

      So, it would seem to be a really bad idea to take, say, Viriconium, turn it into a game that features as a major part of its "aboutness" text and words. Hence, Harrison's claim that doing so is a category error. I get that, even more so than when you first made the point in another thread. Hopefully, Viriconium is about other stuff, too. So, we might still have a pretty convincing game "about" Viriconium stuff, as well. Just not the textual commentary as much. Maybe.

      Anyway, what can we say about this as it compares to role-playing games?

      If we have meta-fiction, can we have meta-gaming? A self-reflexive game?

      I think I created one, quite deliberately.

      I wrote Nine Worlds explicitly to carry this idea. I think it is a meta-gaming role-playing game.

      Read this excerpt from an old thread (which is interesting, perhaps because I'm such an asshole in the thread. Yikes. Took me forever to find it, too.)

      Quote from: Matt Snyder
      THE MUCH DELAYED NINE WORLDS PREMISE:

      Nine worlds can be summed up thusly:

      Create or perish.

      The game's setting and mechanics force the players to craft creative solutions that go a step beyond "beating up the bad guy." Fail to do this, and you will cease to be, cease to exist in the game (as you're carted off by the Furies). The game codifies creativity in such a way that it forces players to solve situations to explain their incentified use of mechanics. Most importantly, in terms of mechanics, the game converts narration into a kind of winnable currency. This, as I see it, is the game's primary (perhaps only) innovation.

      Another take on the premise: How can you inflict your identity on the universe to save it from oblivion?

      This is a game about art, the creative processes of art. It's about creation, and therefore in its way, it's meta-hobby game. It's a creative game about creativity -- one aim (though not the only) is to examine the creative process, deconstruct it and parcel the process out in a challenging game format.


      The game changed considerably over the course of its design (I wrote the above on Nov. 1, 2002, almost a year and a half before the game's release!). But, I think that intent was always there -- it was a game about what it means to create imaginary things, who has the authority to do so, and therefore a game about what gaming is about! Crazy! No one seems to have picked up on that, at least not that I know. Not sure anyone needs to, anyway.

      Ok, enough with the ego surfing. What I'm interested in is seeing how other existing games and upcoming games might do the same thing, too. Interesting!


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: clehrich on December 03, 2004, 02:02:56 PM
      Quote from: Matt Snyder
      By creating Severian's memory and winking at the reader that the text understands "itself," Wolfe is creating meta-fiction (which I'm reasonably aware of in formal literature studies, but nowhere near as informed as you seem to be). That is, he's writing a text that is about text and what it means. All well and good (though my man John Gardner hates that stuff -- another aside, sorry).
      Yes, I think you're on the money.  I'm not comfortable with the notion "meta-fiction" because I never know what it's being used to mean, but what you say here makes sense to me.  I hope you mean John Gardner the guy who wrote Grendel, not the guy who writes knockoff James Bond novels, though.  :-)
      Quote
      If we have meta-fiction, can we have meta-gaming? A self-reflexive game?
      Yes, absolutely.  But not on the basis of the text/speech divide.  This is what I meant about seeking out other absences and gaps in RPGs as a medium.
      Quote
      Nine worlds can be summed up thusly:
      I would need to see more of the text, but I think this is definitely moving in a reflexive direction, yes.  The game is aware that it is a game, and the characters know this in some sense that is comprehensible, parallel to the way the players know this, but at the same time weirdly different.  And the adequation between those spheres is part of the point of the game.  Sound about right?


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: clehrich on December 03, 2004, 02:11:29 PM
      Quote from: neelk
      Second, I basically completely disagree with you. :-)
      That's okay, I know you're wrong anyway.  :-)
      Quote
      Basically, I don't think rpgs have a fabula. Another way of thinking about this is that I don't think there's any such thing as shared imaginative space. There's a whole bunch of stuff, most of which are inconsistent with each other and even with themselves....
      Ah.  Well, I think on that one we have to agree to disagree, except that I think you're taking one extreme and I'm taking the other, and that means that we're talking flip-sides of the same coin.  I'm an old-fashioned positivist, you might be surprised to know, so I like to think in terms of things like SIS.  To discard that entirely is really the same as to express it in such extreme terms of certainty that it becomes well-nigh inaccessible.  I think I get where you're coming from, and we're on opposite sides of the same sheet of paper.  Make sense?
      Quote
      Personally, I find the notion that rpgs are more certain than, say, novels weird. A novel is usually the product of a solitary mind and is a unitary object; that's what makes it an interesting literary strategy for a novelist to meditate upon unknowability. By way of contrast, in an rpg we start in such a desperate and total state of uncertainty that it's artistically fascinating that we are able to have -any- unity at all.
      I think the notion of "certainty" is a little different between us, but not enough the point to debate epistemology.  Who cares, anyway?  Seriously, I do think that the fabula is analyzable and worthwhile for that purpose, in structural terms.  But what you're arguing here is I think consistent with what Clifford Geertz always said about Levi-Strauss: that he dropped out everything that was most interesting about myth in the first place.  I don't agree, but as I say we're on opposite sides of the same coin.  I think it is entirely possible and interesting to meditate not on unknowability but on what is actually expressed way down deep in the fabula, the completely meaningless (seemingly) isolated events; that gets us somewhere toward how we develop meanings or syuzhet around such structures and how we convince ourselves that we know what the hell we're talking about.  But the converse of that is that we can't really say a lot about the affective dimension, and I think you're arguing that the affective dimension is really what the game IS -- and I'm not at all sure I don't agree.

      Do you follow, or am I just being confusing again?


      Title: Re: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: John Kim on December 03, 2004, 02:21:58 PM
      Quote from: clehrich
      Quote from: John Kim
      Well, I am violently opposed to this.  What you're saying is that everything that happens during the actual game is irrelevant -- i.e. what dice are rolled, what the real people say, what the setting is.  That the "text" is the imaginary storyline which was produced.  So regardless of whether I play out a love scene in detail or just say "she seduces him" -- it's the same "text" to RPGs.  And regardless of whether I use D&D or Amber, the text is the fictional facts, not what was actually done at the gaming table.
      I didn't say that, John.  I said that insofar as we can talk about textuality in RPGs, all we have is fabula.  And that is absolutely different from literature, because in literature all we have is syuzhet.  But in fact, we don't deal with RPGs as text at all -- we deal with them through all the layers you're talking about.  Of course we do.  But those are not textual layers -- they are conversational.  I am trying to undermine the notion that RPGs are a textual medium -- they aren't.  Insofar as they are, they are stripped of the vast majority of what is valuable or interesting about them, such as why we enjoy them or care about them.

      I'm struggling with what your saying here, because it makes no sense to me.  Yes, tabletop RPGs are oral rather than written -- just like plays or oral storytelling.  They are also interactive, as many performances are.  But that doesn't change the nature of what they are.  In the end, there is still a sharp distinction between (1) the words and gestures expressed at the gaming table by real people, and (2) the fictional events which are imagined to occur.  (1) is the syuzhet, and (2) is the fabula.  It is still true that the syuzhet is the only physical component, the only thing we "have".  

      And if we discuss play-by-mail or play-by-email games, then the parallel is even more exact.  There it is clear that just like in a novel, all we have is words.  

      Quote from: clehrich
      Quote from: John Kim
      You're trying to make an arbitrary distinction here over the layers of the syuzhet.  But this same thing applies in literature.  For example, a written story may contain many asides by the author or narrator which are not part of describing the fictional action.  These are non-affective, but they are nonetheless an important part of the discourse.
      Those asides are part of the text, part of syuzhet.  Viz. Tristram Shandy, which is nothing but an aside.  The distinction I'm making is exactly the same as the "ritualization" dimension I made in my ritual essay: we, the players, make an arbitrary distinction between what does and does not count.

      Sure.  Just like in a theater, noises from the lobby aren't considered part of the performance -- although they may still be distracting.  But you put the die-rolling and the decision-making of arbitration into the first layer of syuzhet which is ignored.   But the die-rolling is most certainly a part of the ritual.  It is a vital part of the text of role-playing, just as much so as the asides in a novel.  

      What I am concerned about is that you are trying to say that the "text" of role-playing doesn't include the very things which make role-playing distinctive: i.e. the dice rolling, the arbitration, and so forth.


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: Matt Snyder on December 03, 2004, 02:36:17 PM
      Hmm, well, I'm not sure how obvious my intention is, and therefore whether Nine Worlds fits the bill.

      The passage I quoted in my previous post is old stuff. The "new" premise of the game is: "Whose world will you live in? The one you create, or the one created for you?"

      Now, in-game, it's all about these Archon fellows working for and against the immortal gods of the universe in various ways. It's a game about authority. Who gets to do what, when, and how do they get to do it? Will they support the god who rules the planet? Or not? Will they use magic? Or will they do something else? Will they fail, and let others decide their fate? Etc.

      I don't know that I threw in any clever allusions to self-awareness in the game book. (I can't consciously remember anything in the game that's an analog Severian's memory, for example.) But, I really did think about how the Archons in the game and their actions are quite comparable to the process of the players "out of the game." That is, the players are deciding "whose world they will play in -- the one they create or the one created for them" (by a GM, for example).


      Title: Re: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: clehrich on December 03, 2004, 06:32:49 PM
      Quote from: John Kim
      Quote from: clehrich
      I said that insofar as we can talk about textuality in RPGs, all we have is fabula.  And that is absolutely different from literature, because in literature all we have is syuzhet.  But in fact, we don't deal with RPGs as text at all -- we deal with them through all the layers you're talking about.  Of course we do.  But those are not textual layers -- they are conversational.  I am trying to undermine the notion that RPGs are a textual medium -- they aren't.  Insofar as they are, they are stripped of the vast majority of what is valuable or interesting about them, such as why we enjoy them or care about them.
      I'm struggling with what your saying here, because it makes no sense to me.  Yes, tabletop RPGs are oral rather than written -- just like plays or oral storytelling.  They are also interactive, as many performances are.  But that doesn't change the nature of what they are.  In the end, there is still a sharp distinction between (1) the words and gestures expressed at the gaming table by real people, and (2) the fictional events which are imagined to occur.  (1) is the syuzhet, and (2) is the fabula.  It is still true that the syuzhet is the only physical component, the only thing we "have".
      Yes, true, but I'm talking about literary textual products as opposed to RPGs.  You're apparently asking for the distinctions between RPGs and dramatic and other oral performances, some of them interactive.  That's a different matter -- a very different matter.  I have seen syuzhet and fabula talked about quite a lot in the context of film, which is certainly non-textual but nevertheless has this fixity; thus a textual formulation makes good sense.  But I'm not sure how those distinctions apply exactly to live performance.  And as to oral storytelling, especially of myth, I said before that I thought that was a great deal like RPGs.  As I said in the quote above, "insofar as we can talk about textuality in RPGs."  Which I think is a useful analogy, and an interesting one, but at base something of a category mistake.  This isn't text.  That's been my point from the outset.

      Of course, nor is a dramatic performance.  Now standing behind a dramatic performance, often, is a text -- the script.  But that relation is complex and distinctive to dramatic performance, just as the pure textuality of written prose or verse is distinctive to that art form, and just as the use of diegetic techniques in image and music and montage is distinctive to the film medium.  Every artistic medium has its own relations among production, meaning, performance, reception, and inscription; these are distinctive and should be kept so for analytical purposes.  The analogies are useful in trying to work out how one form works, by differentiation against another medium.  But I do not think it is the case that dramatic performance (for example) operates the same way as literary text.  For that matter, I also don't think that music and painting work the same way as literary text, or as dramatic performance, or as each other, or as RPGs.
      Quote
      And if we discuss play-by-mail or play-by-email games, then the parallel is even more exact.  There it is clear that just like in a novel, all we have is words.
      Probably so.  As I said on the other thread, I'm not really prepared to weigh in on this one.  I haven't seen enough of it, and I haven't got it straight enough in my head how it would operate.

      Quote
      Quote from: clehrich
      Those asides are part of the text, part of syuzhet.  Viz. Tristram Shandy, which is nothing but an aside.  The distinction I'm making is exactly the same as the "ritualization" dimension I made in my ritual essay: we, the players, make an arbitrary distinction between what does and does not count.
      Sure.  Just like in a theater, noises from the lobby aren't considered part of the performance -- although they may still be distracting.  But you put the die-rolling and the decision-making of arbitration into the first layer of syuzhet which is ignored.   But the die-rolling is most certainly a part of the ritual.  It is a vital part of the text of role-playing, just as much so as the asides in a novel.
      I'm quite willing to negotiate the distinction between layers.  As I think I said in this initial post, and as I'm sure I said in one of these threads, I'm not happy about how this distinction is formulated.  The best I can come up with is to say that there is an authorial or performative dimension that obtains at one layer that is not present in literary text.  Unquestionably that dimension can be important; indeed, at some level it is essential.  But I'm not at all clear on exactly where the division lies, or whether there are multiple layers, or whatever.  What interests me is the formulation of textuality in RPGs, which I think happens at a layer that is so deep (fabula) that it is almost meaningless to talk about.

      Furthermore, let's note that the distinction between annoying audience noise and performance is an arbitrary one, made by the audience themselves at the time of performance.  They clearly make this distinction, but it's not exactly clear how or where they do so.  Just so, a distinction of some sort is made between what is "really" the game and what isn't.  That formulation of a normative distance, a distinction between "really" the game and not, is what I've elsewhere called ritualization.  I am entirely willing to debate where system falls in this; my sense is that there is a considerable desire to suppress system in terms of what "counts," but your feeling is otherwise, which is fine.  I think that's a worthwhile debate.  But in any event I don't see that it has a lot to do with textuality -- it has to do with performativity, which is something literary text lacks entirely.


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: daMoose_Neo on December 03, 2004, 08:11:42 PM
      ...I kinda got lost, I'm just glad to see that you're going with the "we're trying to create Myths", which is what I was saying quite a time back ^_^


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: clehrich on December 03, 2004, 08:41:42 PM
      Quote from: daMoose_Neo
      ...I kinda got lost, I'm just glad to see that you're going with the "we're trying to create Myths", which is what I was saying quite a time back ^_^
      You mean just recently or before?  Can you provide a link?


      Title: RPGs and the Art of the Form--New Myths for New Communities
      Post by: Christopher Kubasik on December 03, 2004, 10:56:01 PM
      When Chris started his recent round of discussion about Text and RPGs in the "Wild and Untamed Thing" my gander got up (surprise!) and I started typing out notes for a new thread.

      This thread beat me too it and -- surprise! -- I misread where Chris was going and see now he was on the same bead I was on.  

      As far as I can tell, his obsession with comparing RPGs to Text forms is to draw out what is unique about RPGs.  And to this I say, "Good."  As long as we eventually stop using Text based forms as the form the RPG experience aspires too.  (For the purpose of this post, like Chris' comments, I am specifically dealing with Narrativist RPG play.)

      Since Chris is well underway here -- with cool new terminology, no less -- I'm going to simply run down my notes in the hope that they'll provide some new angles to view this matter.

      [By the way, I'm not claiming I'm agreeing with Chris on all points.  In part because he's making so many rejoinders to so many people, on occassion I'm not sure if I know what he's talking about.  For example, when he speaks of "retelling" the PRG sessions' story, I can kind of see the value in doing that -- but honestly, it holds no interest for me.  It's a case history, like a corpse I might learn something from.  But as far as I'm concerned, the living experience of the session is where the action is at.  For all i know, Chris thinks the same thing.  Even after reviewing his posts, I'm not sure where he stands on some of these matters.]


      Let the Text Go

      It's been my contention for a while that the RPG experience (in both the making of the session by the players, and the experience of the session as audience) has a lot more to do with the oral forms of drama and oral storytelling.  Everybody always references novels (well, Ron and I keep going to movies, but the Big Guns of Fantasy are what people usually grab for).  No one seems to have caved under my admonishments about this matter, but I'm hoping to see more headway on this because of this thread.  

      The conflict of the novel is so often an internal matter. This makes sense in terms of the novel's production (the lone writer), and consumption (the lone reader), all of the transfer of ideas, via text, taking place silently in the writer and reader's head.

      Not so RPGs.  To really make the conflict (and thus the action, and thus the -- you -- anything that's happening) engaging for everyone at the table, it needs to be in the public sphere.  That is, when we play RPGs we're pricking at each other (even if just in play).  If the situations are not rising out things said and done between and to characters you're in Turku land -- which is not what most Narrativists are looking for. It's the story revealed between characters that matters.  And that's the form of dramatic narrative (movies and staged plays), and epic poetry, folk and fairy tales.

      I believe people in the RPG world keep turning to big fat novels because a) we're a literate lot and b) they are some of the books that made us want to play RPGs ("Wow, a rich world that goes even beyond the story! I'd like to hang out there for a while!")  But I think -- again, in terms of Narrativis -- the delight of watching a stage play (a good one, of course), or hearing a really great fairy tale -- has more to do with the audience half of being in an RPG session.

      Also, I think we live in a time of Text Fetishism -- a time that's winding down.  And I think people aspire to making their games like Big Fat Books -- because that's the best thing one can aspire to.  Or so goes the common wisdom. I disagree. And I especially disagree about this matter for RPGs.  The games aren't like books.  They're like an epic poem told to a community that cares about the tale, where the audience adds in details that becomes part of the narrative woven by the Poet that night.  (A common practice once, for epic poets, and clearly a distant uncle of the Narrativist RPG experience.)


      Stop Focusing on All the Stuff

      Yes, there are character sheets. And yes, there are rule books and maps. But to say that's what an RPG is is like saying a movie is the camera, film stock and make up. You might view movies this way.  But I can guarantee you most audience members don’t.  And what at stake here, as far as I'm concerned, is the reception of the RPG play in his audience member half.  We do all the stuff with the dice and the maps to make something happen.  And that making something happen is receiving a -- well, I'm going to say -- story.  

      (I have to say, Chris' obsession with the turning and twisting of the concept of "Fiction" and "Story" leaves me a little non-plussed.  I'm not talking about a transcript text here resulting in a publishable story.  I'm just saying, in Narrativism, there are characters, doing things, with a piling up of details, that influence the next set of details. The fact that there's chatter doesn't change this, nor do all the tools and toys that let the game occur.  A film crew making a movie is the audience as well as the makers of a story in progress, with tons of "distractions" from the "story." BUT, if everyone is doing their job right, they're feeling their way through the story, even if it's shot out of context.  For some reason the idea that there's a compass called "The Story" that is the guiding element of all the actins (IC/OOC/Whatever) doesn't seem that complicated to me.)


      Myth -- the Real Stuff, Not the Dusty Stuff

      This occurred to me after reading the Moose in the City Actual Play thread posted after GenCon.  I didn't say anything about it, cause I thought no one would take it seriously.  But now seems the time.

      Ron, in one of the posts, commented on the thread, "Think about how much TV is crappy and how much everybody really would like to be able, week by week, to watch at least one excellent show. Think about how fast word spreads through our culture when such a show appears."

      I thought several things quickly reading that:

      1)   "Yeah, of course you thought it was great. You were your own focus group!"
      2)   "Yeah, of course great shows spread the word fast -- and then they're cancelled in three weeks." (One of the reason, honestly, I simply stopped thinking about TV as a fun thing to do with my time.)
      3)   "Uh.  You know. That focus group thing.  That's important.  There's really no way to believe Moose in the City would get enough audience nationwide to last on the air.  But it sure as hell meant a lot to these guys."
      4)   "Oh. Jeez. They are their own focus group. They are a community, at least for the duration of the story, telling a story, creating a story, with each of them having input, that creates a story that means a lot to THEM."
      5)   "Like myths use to do. Where the nature, subject matter and telling of the myth was defined by the community needs and desires."

      I realized then that hard-core Narrativist play is a form of "live-wire" myth.  Not myth in the sense of "here's a cool old story that's cool because it's cool," but myth as in, "This is a story that says what we as a people value."  

      The same story produced in play might be meaningless to other people. And that's fine.  And this is the Great Strength and Value of Narrativist RPG play over moves and published lit.  Movies and publishing, for the most part, mind you, strive to reach the greatest market possible.  And in striving for that, you often end up with the kind of TV that Ron decries the quote above.  Most TV gets by on technique, but not meaning that cuts to the heart of the viewer.  Narrativist Gaming can go directly to the heart of the audience, because the makers are the audience, and they have no responsibility to anyone but their own community.

      I'd offer that this is why playing with "one-person-removed" (those people who are actually people you like, like you, in your life) are the people you'll probably want to be playing Narrativist games with.  Because it isn't about using the rules "right," nor is it about getting the "details" right ("This is how you play Treck," "This is how the story is supposed to end").  It's about sharing and forming a unique tale on the fly that reveals what the group values -- as individuals and as a community.


      RPGS are Not Mass Media. Deal with It

      As noted above, RPG sessions are not geared to being reproducible commodities.  

      Good. That's one of their strengths.  

      They draw on traditions that existed before mass media became the ubiquitous goal.

      Like that performance of Hamlet opening night that everyone is still talking about 30 years later, the unique artifact is not an artifact at all but the experience of the event.

      There's no shame here.  It's just what it is.

      RPGs are also unique in that the makers are the audience.  But anyone who's acted in a play will tell you -- no big whoop.  I know (going back to what I said before about our fetish with Text and obsession with The Big Fat Book) we're used to thinking of story, or art, or whatever, being this "constructed" thing handed down from on high, received for consumption by strangers.  But the act of acting gives us another model.  

      I'm not talking about the audience's reception of the event.  And I'm not concerned about whether or not the performance was improvised or scripted.

      What I am saying is that to be on stage, in character, in the middle of a dramatic narrative, is at once to be In Character and Out of Character.  To be at once making the story happen and watching the story happen.  To be able to admire what your fellow actors are doing and be busy doing your job. To be alert to the needs of mechanical business ("Have to set that glass here," "have to catch my light here,") and involved enough to have a emotional life that compels your fellow actors, as well as the audience.

      And I'll invoke oral storytelling here as well.  We've been trained in the last century to be very respectful and polite when a tale is being told.  But the oral storyteller knows he's telling a story, and the audience knows he's telling a story.  There would be asides for the community of the audience, as well as, perhaps, specific references to people in the audience ("His hair was as fair as that baby's right there.")  The story was not "weakened" by this breaking of the story's reality, but the significance was heightened by the connection to the world of the people.  And -- as mentioned -- the audience would also call out details, or ask questions, "And what of Bearhand?" and the storyteller would take a side trip and build that as well.

      Remember that this fucking obsession with mimesis -- the idea that we're trying to reproduce the "reality" of the story as neatly as possible -- is a 20th century bugaboo in theater -- and only reinforced with the illusion of film to capture 'reality' and the high literary fiction's delight in the minutia of every day life.  Epic poetry, the language of Molieré and Shakespeare's plays, the staging of all theater up until the end of the 19th century and a host of other "false" conventions all depended on a poetic license (both oral and visual) to communicate their stories to the audience.

      [Quick notes: the transition from trusting poetic expression of narrative to the preference of literal presentation began centuries before the 20th century.  But the domination of literal presentation won out in the last century.]

      [For more contemporary but poetic storytelling performance, check out Mary Zimmerman's work with The Looking Glass Theater Company.  Their productions of "The Arabian Nights" and "The Metamorphosis" involve scenes played between actors who also slip in and out of character as narrators to the audience.  They move between being emotionally engaged in the story, and imploring the adience, with poetic words and motions, to be aware a stor is being told.  Again, I have no idea how Chris would see "story" fitting -- or not fitting -- in here.  But by god, the audiences weep.]

      RPGs have rougher conventions, but I don’t think they are deal breakers.  If the group playing Moose in the City could successfully touch each other's hearts so well, the Dice, Rules, and so on somehow served to support the narrative events.  They are part of the Narrativist RPG experience, but not the purpose.  The purpose is to share with the community of players -- a small group community, perhaps -- the intensity of bringing to the fore, "This is what matters. This is what we value.  This is what we create together."

      And how cool is that?


      Title: Re: RPGs and the Art of the Form--New Myths for New Communit
      Post by: clehrich on December 03, 2004, 11:44:37 PM
      Christopher,

      Thank you for this fascinating post.  We are definitely on the same page.  A few comments, however, as I go along....
      Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
      As far as I can tell, his obsession with comparing RPGs to Text forms is to draw out what is unique about RPGs.  And to this I say, "Good."  As long as we eventually stop using Text based forms as the form the RPG experience aspires too.  (For the purpose of this post, like Chris' comments, I am specifically dealing with Narrativist RPG play.)
      This is the one major place I disagree with you.  I do not think this is about Narrativism at all.  I'll get back to that.
      Quote
      I believe people in the RPG world keep turning to big fat novels because a) we're a literate lot and b) they are some of the books that made us want to play RPGs ("Wow, a rich world that goes even beyond the story! I'd like to hang out there for a while!")  But I think -- again, in terms of Narrativis -- the delight of watching a stage play (a good one, of course), or hearing a really great fairy tale -- has more to do with the audience half of being in an RPG session.
      I agree with you.  I believe it's also because Tolkien in particular, as the undisputed Master of the really big fantasy novel, was drawing consciously upon mythic materials.  I think people are really grasping after myth, but they can't encounter that normally.  They perceive it, however dimly, in Tolkien, and try to reconstruct it.
      Quote
      Also, I think we live in a time of Text Fetishism
      Yes.  And I do not think that's something we can really get over.  It's something we need to be conscious of and deal with, especially in an art form that is not textual, but we cannot really "get over it."  Textuality is here to stay.
      Quote
      (I have to say, Chris' obsession with the turning and twisting of the concept of "Fiction" and "Story" leaves me a little non-plussed.  I'm not talking about a transcript text here resulting in a publishable story.
      I'm trying to formulate the ways -- and they are very limited -- in which a serious analogy between textual forms and RPGs can be formulated.  And if they leave you nonplused, that's good, because RPGs aren't textual and the analogy is therefore weak.  Yet in a time of textual fetishism those analogies are constantly made and bitterly defended.
      Quote
      I realized then that hard-core Narrativist play is a form of "live-wire" myth.  Not myth in the sense of "here's a cool old story that's cool because it's cool," but myth as in, "This is a story that says what we as a people value."
      Yes.  With you there.
      Quote
      The same story produced in play might be meaningless to other people. And that's fine.  And this is the Great Strength and Value of Narrativist RPG play over moves and published lit.
      But what makes this distinctive to Narrativism?  Everything you've said is intrinsic to the form, not to the creative agendum.
      Quote
      Remember that this fucking obsession with mimesis -- the idea that we're trying to reproduce the "reality" of the story as neatly as possible -- is a 20th century bugaboo in theater -- and only reinforced with the illusion of film to capture 'reality' and the high literary fiction's delight in the minutia of every day life.  Epic poetry, the language of Molieré and Shakespeare's plays, the staging of all theater up until the end of the 19th century and a host of other "false" conventions all depended on a poetic license (both oral and visual) to communicate their stories to the audience.
      I'll see you and raise you one.  I think that the representational or mimetic dimension of such storytelling, in whatever medium, is conditioned by its displacement from the oral situation.  I think that epic poetry and Shakespeare and all that is at base struggling with mimesis as a problem; where they differ from us is in not yet having completely capitulated.  That capitulation brought us the novel, which I happen to love but which is about as alien to myth as anything could really be.  What I think was the case in myth was that mimesis wasn't really on the table at all, and that then in between you had mimesis as a serious problem, and then you had Mimesis Now as an exciting new creative agenda, if you'll pardon my putting it that way.

      I have only one serious disagreement, and I'm going to have to postpone explaining my reasons for it because I'm struggling desperately with a long and complex essay that will lay it out as clearly as I can.

      I think that the CA we're really talking about is Sim, not Nar.  I think that Nar is fundamentally conditioned by mimesis, and that's what makes it what it is.  It is at base interested in the production of something that stands somewhere between literary text and myth.  That is unique and disctinctive and valuable.  But it isn't myth.

      What I think the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast is really about is that Sim really wants to tell myth.  It doesn't have any coherent sense of what that means or how to go about it, but it's that peculiarly structural and non-narrative mode that is mythic.

      Consider the fact that everybody seemed traditionally to go first to Sim.  We've said time and again that this is an historical artifact, but is it?  How come everyone keeps desperately pleading that really they're doing Sim when they aren't?  How come all those "hybrids" of Sim and Nar turn out to be Nar -- why don't people happily celebrate their Nar natures?

      I submit that it's because what they really want is myth, and, at some sort of deep, not-quite-conscious level, they can "feel" that Sim is a closer approximation.  So they want Sim, because it's myth, or could produce myth, and they keep struggling to claim that.  What is ouija-board play but the prayer that somehow, some way, myth will just sort of drop into people's laps like manna from heaven?  And why is ouija-board play so commonly connected to Simulationism?

      It's because Sim is really much closer to the mythic root.  Really it is.  That doesn't make it better -- it makes it weird and alien if anything.  But it does touch something very deep in us: la pensee sauvage, the savage mind, feral thought.  Which is also, incidentally, the French term for what we call a Johnny Jump-up: that funny little pretty wild weed that causes a smile but we never cultivate, that is totally familiar and yet utterly untamed and savage.  That's myth.  And we feel that, in Sim.

      Anyway, a sketch of where I'm going.  But otherwise I'm totally on the same page with you, Christopher.  Awesome!  Besides, you've put a number of things much more clearly than I did, so I hope some of my disagreements that are really confusions will melt away, and the actual disagreements out there will manifest clearly.


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: Christopher Kubasik on December 04, 2004, 06:58:34 AM
      Hi Chris,

      For some reason I thought you made a note on one of these hydra-like threads that your were speaking specifically of Narrativism. Clearly I was mistaken!

      Second, I can kind of "feel" where you're going with your point about Sim being closer to Myth.  All I can offer is that, as you've already touched on, Sim doesn't quite get there.  Nar, I think, does -- but in a little way. It's doesn't provide a shared cosmological reference -- as Sim so often does.  Nor does it have that, "The world is bigger than you know quality," that often so frustrates me with Sim play -- but, frankly, also has its appeal.  I look forward to seeing what you have to say about this.

      I'll end on this point by saying, Narrativists could easily give up their concerns about "creating" something that feels like Text -- and be happier for it.  This is an agenda of my last post.  The bubbliest game around right now is Prime Time Adventures.  Which uses as its model what -- ? That non-Text medium of Television.  I think that's an important point.  Could you comment on that?

      And, yes on your raise about mimesis.  But I'd add this:  One can have delight in the schism between the manufactured tale and reality.  Shakespeare's langague being one such a result.  This is part of the yolk I'm trying to remove from the RPG experience in that last post.  Everyone's trying all the time to make play transparent.  Why?  How about making the non-mimetic parts fun.  (And, clearly, many games do just this.)

      (This all, by the way, has nothing to do with "metafiction."  Metafiction is a technique that constantly points to itself that says, "This is a story. In fact, what we're really writing and reading about right now is a little essay about story."  Shakespeare's language or Severians' memory is a technique used to tell the story.  If one wants to think about them, and go down rabbit holes -- which is fun! -- one can. But they don't make the tale metafiction (or, by that definition, all fiction is metafiction!). To see the classic example of metafiction, check out Barth's "In the Funhouse."  It's got charts that diagram the progress of the lover's romance embedded between paragraphs!)

      Finally, on a contrary note (or at least a question), why do you consider Nar more mimetic in its goals than Sim?  Why do you think it is striving for something like Text by definition?  At this moment I just don't see it having to be this way.  I know your essay is coming, but at this moment it seems a strange jump.

      The difference for me may well be this: These may not be the times for the Big Myth(tm).  And while Sim play may strive for it, times may be too fractured in terms of culture, faith and whatnot for Big Myth to be reached, Nar play offers the Little Myth(tm), something of import for those players, the small, temporary community at hand.

      I'll agree that many Nar players are reaching for Text-based style validation (as are usually Sim players).  But I'd argue, again, there's no need to go there.  And all would be happier -- and perhaps amazed -- with the results if they cut that cord.

      Best,

      Christopher

      PS I just realized that in issues of mimesis, we're talking techniques.  But, if I'm getting this right, the Big Three Modes are now defined independently of techniques!  So, what I'm referring to about Sim issues and Nar issues may not be such -- but only the "habits" or techniques I associate with one or the other.

      For example, up until the 20th century, theater used aggressive scene framing.  When a servent needed to deliver a message to the king, he shot up on stage, the scene began.  In the 20th century, in an attempt to be more "real" -- you'd start with a character on stage, reading a paper.  The doorbell would ring.  The person onstage would fold up his paper, cross toward the door. Check himself in the mirror. The doorbell would ring again. The man would get the door.  Then pleasantries would be exchanged, (Hello. Hello, how are you...) and then, eventually, the scene would begin.  Now, I associate the aggressive scene framing of the first 2000 years plus of theater with Nar techniques, and the "We're going to live out every moment of transition if it kills us," of 20th century theater with Sim play.  But -- I'm getting this all wrong because we're not allowed to associate technique with the Modes anymore, right?  

      Can anyone tell me how I can talk about this stuff anymore?  I'm honestly baffled -- since all issues of mimesis are ALL about technique as well as agenda.  (Fourth wall theater says, "This story is happening, and would happen even if you weren't here."  Storytelling theater (see Looking Glass example in my last post),  says, "We're addressing you, because if you weren't here, there'd be no story. We're all in this together."  One I associate with strong Sim abitions, the other a practical point of Narrativism -- but in fact, there's no reason to do this.  Right?

      I'm a bit boggled on this.  But I may be misreading the need to be concerned about it.


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: Alan on December 04, 2004, 07:41:35 AM
      Hi Chris L and all,

      Two thoughts this discussion triggered:

      Game rules have parts analogous to fabula and syuzhet:

      These are 1) the visual and textual presentation of the rule book, and 2) the rules the reader constructs based on their understanding of it.  The writer's art is to form the physical text so a wide range or readers produce a similar set of actual play rules.  Or in some cases, to leave ambiguity in specific places that allows the reader to project their own content.

      The point being: this dichotomy is a valuable thing to keep in mind when writing a rule book (or novel, essay, email, etc.)


      Second: I've never held that the act of roleplaying was like a finished text.  However, I do believe that the act of roleplaying shares a great deal with the act of _creating_ a text.  

      [EDIT]There's a process of producing and selecting elements, and a finished result.  Granted an rpg only produces a memory, usually boiled down to fabula, while writing produces a record which become the syuzhet for another person.  In a sense, roleplaying and writing are mirrors of each other.[/EDIT]


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: clehrich on December 04, 2004, 10:10:38 AM
      Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
      I'll end on this point by saying, Narrativists could easily give up their concerns about "creating" something that feels like Text -- and be happier for it.  This is an agenda of my last post.  The bubbliest game around right now is Prime Time Adventures.  Which uses as its model what -- ? That non-Text medium of Television.  I think that's an important point.  Could you comment on that?
      Yes, I think you're probably right, although I confess that I don't understand TV well as a medium, at least partly because I can't stand almost any shows I see these days and so don't watch them and so don't think about them.  I do think that if PTA is so successful, and it sounds like it is, then one thing very much worth doing would be to think about why from an analytical perspective.  That is, it would be worth delving into the nature of TV as a medium, its characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, and so forth, and considering carefully why and how PTA succeeds in capturing so many of these things.  This might help us clarify the nature of RPGs as a medium.
      Quote
      And, yes on your raise about mimesis.  But I'd add this:  One can have delight in the schism between the manufactured tale and reality.  Shakespeare's langague being one such a result.  This is part of the yolk I'm trying to remove from the RPG experience in that last post.  Everyone's trying all the time to make play transparent.  Why?  How about making the non-mimetic parts fun.  (And, clearly, many games do just this.)
      Oh yes, no question that this schism is a site of play and development.  That's one of the things about artistic forms: they very often succeed precisely by capitalizing on the tensions intrinsic to the medium or its cultural development.  That was sort of my point about the novel and fantasy: the intrinsic absence at the base of language is a wonderful locus for the fantastic.

      On metafiction, I only disagree with you about Severian's memory, which I do think throws us into the meta-dimension.
      Quote
      Finally, on a contrary note (or at least a question), why do you consider Nar more mimetic in its goals than Sim?  Why do you think it is striving for something like Text by definition?  At this moment I just don't see it having to be this way.  I know your essay is coming, but at this moment it seems a strange jump.
      I think Narrativist RPGs  play on the schism between mimesis and some kind of transparency (but to what?).  Thus the connection of Narrativism to "story."  I suppose it's not exactly that Nar strives for textuality, but I do think that Nar is more adequately comparable to the kinds of texts you referred to (Shakespeare, Moliere, epic poetry, Chaucer, etc.) than to myth -- or to late prose fiction forms such as the novel.
      Quote
      The difference for me may well be this: These may not be the times for the Big Myth(tm).  And while Sim play may strive for it, times may be too fractured in terms of culture, faith and whatnot for Big Myth to be reached, Nar play offers the Little Myth(tm), something of import for those players, the small, temporary community at hand.
      I'm not sure what you mean by this distinction.  To my mind, Narrativism is especially well suited to genres like tragedy and epic, which clearly have something of a mythic base but projected into specifically ethical spheres.  I think that's a good thing, incidentally.  You are correct, in my opinion, that Sim cannot succeed at its real goal, i.e. myth, while Nar can succeed, precisely because we have lost myth as an artistic form precisely through the developments that transmuted myth into things like tragedy and epic.  But I think that makes Sim a much stranger beast than we generally recognize.

      One of the points I'm working on in my essay is a suggestion that this quality of Sim is why it doesn't fit comfortably into the GNS triad, prompting things like the Beeg Horseshoe and so on.  Somehow Sim doesn't really seem to be the same sort of thing; as an agenda for creation, it seems to be about something else.  I think that's true, because I think what we're looking at is a quite different artistic form -- one that is certainly related to later narrative forms but is ultimately not the same at a deep level.
      Quote
      I'll agree that many Nar players are reaching for Text-based style validation (as are usually Sim players).  But I'd argue, again, there's no need to go there.  And all would be happier -- and perhaps amazed -- with the results if they cut that cord.
      I'd more or less agree.  I do think that Nar stands to gain rather more by the comparison, though, because of things like tragedy and epic.  But I think this is actually destructive, a category mistake, when we're looking at Sim.  To be sure, cutting the cord would help, but I don't think it's practically speaking possible because, as you say, we live in an age of text fetishism.  And that's why Sim really can't ever achieve its goals: it's trying to do something that requires a cultural situation that does not obtain any longer.
      Quote
      Can anyone tell me how I can talk about this stuff anymore?  I'm honestly baffled -- since all issues of mimesis are ALL about technique as well as agenda.  (Fourth wall theater says, "This story is happening, and would happen even if you weren't here."  Storytelling theater (see Looking Glass example in my last post),  says, "We're addressing you, because if you weren't here, there'd be no story. We're all in this together."  One I associate with strong Sim abitions, the other a practical point of Narrativism -- but in fact, there's no reason to do this.  Right?
      Well, I do think that certain techniques are more supportive of particular CAs as a rule, but I'd generally agree with Ron that this is not intrinsic to the CA.  So while it's true that aggressive framing, like Director Stance, is probably more useful in Narrativist games, it isn't the case that those techniques cannot appear in Sim games.

      What isn't well formulated, though, and what I think you may be getting at here, is that the techniques and so forth have different meanings dependent upon the CA being expressed through them.  Thus in a sense Actor Stance means one thing in Narrativism and something quite different in Simulationism.  One could in theory thus define three different kinds of Actor Stance, but Ron's model is phenomenological in the sense that it looks at the exterior structure of the technique rather than the meaning.  Thus Actor Stance cannot be distinguished based on CA because CA is not a phenomenon -- it's the one part of the model that isn't, which is why it cuts across the layers in that strange way.  To put it differently, an outside observer can identify every piece of the model in action whenever it happens... except for CA, which requires a different time-scale and in a sense a different sort of unit of measurement.

      Any thoughts?


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: Christopher Kubasik on December 04, 2004, 12:16:52 PM
      Hi Chris,

      "What isn't well formulated, though, and what I think you may be getting at here, is that the techniques and so forth have different meanings dependent upon the CA being expressed through them. "

      I buy this completely.

      As for this statement --

      "...but I do think that Nar is more adequately comparable to the kinds of texts you referred to (Shakespeare, Moliere, epic poetry, Chaucer, etc.) than to myth -- or to late prose fiction forms such as the novel."

      I do think this is where you and I are simply going to be going down different tracks.  I'm specifically not talking about the text alone in such matters.  I'm always -- always -- talking about this in terms of performance before an audience (or in production or rehearsal).  The experience of language ennacted is always what I'm talking about.  I read Homer out loud.  And -- I don't know about you -- I've always played my RPGs with mouths wide open.

      To me the text in plays, movies, oral storytelling is to serve as a delivery system for social interaction -- interaction between characters, interaction between the storytellers and the audience, interaction between those in the arts who like doing things with other people people the arts.

      This matters because I think it taps directly into why PTA is so successful, and perhaps why its success seems so opaque to you.  PTA has glommed on tight to the basic tools of straight up dramatic narrative.  Which is a different beasts entirely than "Text". Text is what fucking lies there waiting for the scalpel.  We have every reason to believe Shakespeare, when originally performed, was done at a clip twice as fast as we present it today.  And that no one could keep up with it all then as it flash by.  Just like today.  Yet the story was still clear.  Shakespeare, in peformance, is never under the scalpel.  It's quick and alive for the knife.  It bolts forward and delivers to the actors and audience a moment that's alive right now -- and then leaps to the next one.  That leaping is what dramatic narrative is all about.

      Dramatic narrative is all about characters in conflict, manipulating each other through words and actions, to get what they want.  The intentions of the story were still clear.

      Which, by the way, sounds a lot like players at an RPG session having a good time.

      You're going to be approaching everything from this point of view of Text it seems.  I'm not saying its worth derailing where you're headed.  You seem to be having fun.  But I think it has everything to do with why you and I aren't going to be meeting up on this soon.

      Imagine TV, Film, oral storytelling and theater as artifacts that you could only experience in performance.  Never with a text as a reference, and you'll get a clue as to what I'm on about.

      As far as Severian goes -- you're speaking of a "meta-dimension".  Which, sure. It's there.  (Or not. Depending on how far the reader wants to go.)  And I know Wolfe put it there on purpose.  I mentioned "meta-fiction", which Matt brought up.  I wanted desperately to make sure we're making a distinction between meta-fiction and anything we can go rumaging around in that's there in addition to the story.  Meta-fiction doesn't have a story.  It is a discourse about story -- without an acutal, engaging story.  That ain't The Book of the New Sun.  

      Finally, back to where you and I are going to diverge.... I'm not a theoritician. I'm a guy who needs to make stories work.  So, when you go on about fabula and whatnot, I'm immediately thinking of David Mamet, who would happily tell you (with passion and at greath length), that there's NO difference between the Plot and the Story.  What the actors do on stage is the Plot and the Story, and that's all you get.  If they're doing some story that has nothing to do with the Plot, you need to cut it.  And what the audience watches on stage is the Story.  There's nothing before the beginning of the play, there's nothing after. That's it.

      I'm not saying he's right.  I am saying that this is master carpenter of the dramatic arts (who's read his Propp if I recall correctly; and certainly plenty of fairy tales), and had given lots of thought to "How do I build a play that holds them to the end."

      In other words, the actual SHARING at the table between players is what matters more to me than what doesn't get said or does get said.  What gets evoked and shared is what matters, because RPGs are a social form.  Text consumption is a solitary form.

      The Text issue drives me nuts, because if I think about all the extra stuff that happens, say, in a play, or when I've volunteere to tell stories at Children's Museums or Elementary Schools, the story would never get told. We'd be editing out all the lights up in the rafters, the crinkling of the candy next to us, the kids playing down the hall.... But somehow, everyone's still pulling some sort of narrative out of the events.

      And here's the kicker: the active performance/telling is as much a part of the event as anything else.  I can't tell you how often I had adults sitting down next to their kids for a fairy tale, completely enraptured at a Children's Museum.  They were starving for the stuff.  And I think this form, and this hunger, is part of what certain RPG styles tap into.

      This is a completely different expereience than the reader sitting down to consume a Text -- alone and focused.

      See, I have this theory: Form and Function.  (Fancy, right?)

      Solitary writer writes, delivers to solitary reader.  Ergo, the internal life, and calm minutia of detial is what the story focuses on, cause that's the experience of the reader and writer.

      Compare this to the rough and tubmle SOCIAL process of making a play or a movie or TV.  Which is designed (for the most part), to be delievered to people who have hauled their asses up out of their homes, driven their bodies where they wound not normally be, surround themselves with strangers in a dark room.  And what do we get -- story that are dependent on character influencing each other through word and deed.  The internal life and minutia is swept aside for bodies and words in motion.

      I'd offer RPGs have a lot more to do with the latter, and little to do with the former. And when they try to do the former, they derail.

      This is where you and I will, I suspect, disagree on the future of storytelling.  I think Text will hold sway for those who want "clever" stories.  And I think clever writers will continue to write for clever reders. But I think when pure, old fashioned storytelling, is the providence of once again no-need-to-read performance.

      Oh.  One last thing.  There is a text for dramatic narrative.  But in practice, for the experience of the audience, its non-existent.  That's why many (and I mean many) people think that their favorite actors are so wonderful -- because they make up those terrific lines.

      What matters is the details adding up in the moment.  Just like RPGs.  And despite the distraction of the Stage Manager having a glass of water in the wings.

      All of this, if you look at the experience of the cast and crew of a play or movie -- serving always as audience and makers -- is why I think the form of RPG is best served from examining standing on its feet dramatic narrative.  And epic poetry, and fairy tales -- which are all performance specific and altered by the audience when done in its pure form.

      I'll leave the issues of myth for your next, thoughtful essay.

      Anyway, back to making tables that stand up straight, as it were.

      Best,

      Christopher


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: clehrich on December 04, 2004, 12:42:48 PM
      Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
      As for this statement --

      "...but I do think that Nar is more adequately comparable to the kinds of texts you referred to (Shakespeare, Moliere, epic poetry, Chaucer, etc.) than to myth -- or to late prose fiction forms such as the novel."

      I do think this is where you and I are simply going to be going down different tracks.  I'm specifically not talking about the text alone in such matters.  I'm always -- always -- talking about this in terms of performance before an audience (or in production or rehearsal).  The experience of language ennacted is always what I'm talking about.  I read Homer out loud.  And -- I don't know about you -- I've always played my RPGs with mouths wide open.
      Yes, actually we're on the same page.  Those are textual forms that are in some way about orality, which isn't the case with the novel.
      Quote
      As far as Severian goes -- you're speaking of a "meta-dimension".  Which, sure. It's there.  (Or not. Depending on how far the reader wants to go.)  And I know Wolfe put it there on purpose.  I mentioned "meta-fiction", which Matt brought up.  I wanted desperately to make sure we're making a distinction between meta-fiction and anything we can go rumaging around in that's there in addition to the story.  Meta-fiction doesn't have a story.  It is a discourse about story -- without an acutal, engaging story.  That ain't The Book of the New Sun.
      Oh, I see.  Sorry, my mistake.
      Quote
      Finally, back to where you and I are going to diverge.... I'm not a theoritician. I'm a guy who needs to make stories work.  So, when you go on about fabula and whatnot, I'm immediately thinking of David Mamet, who would happily tell you (with passion and at greath length), that there's NO difference between the Plot and the Story.  What the actors do on stage is the Plot and the Story, and that's all you get.  If they're doing some story that has nothing to do with the Plot, you need to cut it.  And what the audience watches on stage is the Story.  There's nothing before the beginning of the play, there's nothing after. That's it.
      Yes, I'd tend to agree with Mamet.  I think what he's doing, which I've never seen before in reference to drama -- I'll have to read some more Mamet -- is saying that drama is all syuzhet.  There's no "something else really" in it.  It's all the telling, the as-it-happens, the process.  I don't know, I might have that very wrong, but that's my impression from this comment and from having seen a fair number of Mamet plays.
      Quote
      In other words, the actual SHARING at the table between players is what matters more to me than what doesn't get said or does get said.  What gets evoked and shared is what matters, because RPGs are a social form.  Text consumption is a solitary form.
      Yup, complete agreement.
      Quote
      This is where you and I will, I suspect, disagree on the future of storytelling.  I think Text will hold sway for those who want "clever" stories.  And I think clever writers will continue to write for clever reders. But I think when pure, old fashioned storytelling, is the providence of once again no-need-to-read performance.
      Well, this is the one place we'll disagree: I don't think we're going to get out from under the sway of text.  I think we're stuck with it.  But that doesn't mean that non-textual forms cannot struggle with the problem and make a stab at it.
      Quote
      Oh.  One last thing.  There is a text for dramatic narrative.  But in practice, for the experience of the audience, its non-existent.  That's why many (and I mean many) people think that their favorite actors are so wonderful -- because they make up those terrific lines.
      Really?  Interesting.  I'll have to think about that one.

      I guess I don't see that we're disagreeing about anything except that I'm more pessimistic about the performative and non-textual modes getting free of text.  This was something Antonin Artaud ranted about a lot, as in his Manifesto for a Theater of Cruelty, where the idea was that it was only through cruelty that we could get loose of the text.  And despite a lot of experiments, I don't see that we've really achieved what he hoped.  I'm not convinced that we can do so.  But that's a deep philosophical and historical issue, not a matter of what RPGs are or aren't.  On all of the rest, I think we agree.

      I should say that in this post, because of the thread that prompted it, my concern has been largely with the relationship between texts and RPGs.  And my assessment is largely negative: the two really aren't particularly similar.  So what you're reading as my fixation or obsession with text is at least in part an artefact of this particular post and this particular context.

      Does that help?


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: Christopher Kubasik on December 04, 2004, 12:58:10 PM
      It does.

      And let me clarify: I'm not talking about dramatic narrative getting away from text. I'm talking about the text of dramatic narrative being a delivery system for social interaction -- among all those groups I described above.

      Trust me, you can't make a movie without a screenplay.  But no one wants to read screenplays.  Why?  Cause it's not a movie!  The director wants to be shooting it, the actors want to be peforming it.  The only people who actively read screenplays are other screenwriters -- looking for clues on how to do their job better.  

      On the other hand, folks like Harold Bloom are convinced that performances of Shakespeare ruin the Bard's words.  Well, you know.  To bad.  The sloppiness of life is the sloppiness of theater is the sloppiness of life.  Shakespear's text, in my view, is tested in performance, not how well it stands up under way-too-thoughtful scrutiny in the study.

      ******

      As for my misapprehending your main point:

      I suppose the confusion I'm having with your words (and it's my confusion) may be this:

      "my concern has been largely with the relationship between texts and RPGs. And my assessment is largely negative"

      And I'm like, "Yeah. I know. Me, too."

      I've been asserting for years that Text isn't the propper model for RPGs.  I know there are half a dozen posts on these boards of me saying, "Not the novel! Dramatic narrative! Epic Poetry!" and so on. So for me its a non-issue.  To even compare Text and RPGs, to my brain, always seems to be provoking this "Wha --? Why would anyone think this way???" out of me.

      I see where you're coming from.  I'm just excited about what's coming next.

      Oh, as far as the fate of text goes --

      Please note.  I specifically referenced Fiction there.  Check your bookstore sales data: Fiction is down, Non-Fiction is up.  I think it's going to stay this way, and I think the trend will continue.  There will always be a few storytellers who stick it out in Text, but the critical and publishing apparatus is chock full of folks who want to know they know more than there is to know.

      When it comes to delivering Story, there are a bunch of other outlets that don't depend on getting past (no offence meant to anyone here) sensitive introverts who prefer books to life.  But that's exactly what the audiences of Stories want -- life turned up to 11.  And they'll go where the storytellers are rewarded for delivering such tales -- Theater, Circuses, TV, Movies, and other socially driven, non-literate outlets.

      Christopher


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: clehrich on December 04, 2004, 01:11:18 PM
      I don't have anything much to say here, now that we're really very much in agreement.  Unless someone wants to join in on the thread, I think we're probably done here, but let's wait a few days for mulling-over.  That is, unless someone posts by Tuesday, let's call it quits.

      Just one thing:
      Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
      On the other hand, folks like Harold Bloom are convinced that performances of Shakespeare ruin the Bard's words.  Well, you know.  To bad.  The sloppiness of life is the sloppiness of theater is the sloppiness of life.  Shakespear's text, in my view, is tested in performance, not how well it stands up under way-too-thoughtful scrutiny in the study.
      Does he really?  <laugh>  What a freak.  Can you give me a reference?  I'm really kind of boggled that even he would go quite that far, and I wonder what he means by it.  Veeeery strange.


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: LordSmerf on December 05, 2004, 10:46:00 AM
      I would be extremely interested in pursuing the idea that Sim play wants to, and cannot attain, Myth.  Especially with the idea that Nar play isn't primarily concerned with Myth, but can attain it none the less.  I would also be exremely interested in pursuing the distinction between recorded story telling in which the audience does not feed back into the story (Film, Literature, Television) and "living" story telling in which the audience is able to feedback (RPGs, Theater, Oral Performance).  Both of these may be better suited to new threads, though I think that the latter is probably closely tied to textuality.

      Here's my take on Sim play and Myth.  I believe that Primetime Adventures can be considered to be a Sim facilitating game.  The game emulates television melodrama, and every piece of the mechanics facilitates emulating that specific story telling medium.  Now, television melodrama, at its best, is chock full of Narrativist agenda.  That is, there's Premise, and Issues, and Moral Choice.  I have this feeling that playing PTA in a Sim mode may result in the creation of Story, but it results in the creation of a textual form of story.  That is, since you are emulating a format that tells story, and the emulation is what drives the story, the audience (the players) are not being "pricked".  This isn't their story, this is the story that the medium tells.

      The result here is that while the object of Sim play may be ot emulate Myth, the very fact that it is emulating a form that tells story (instead of making story for story's sake) makes it impossible for Myth to actually be created.

      Now, PTA can also be seen as a brilliant, Narrativist facilitating game.  The focus on character Issues, the way conflict is brought into play, the ways in which spotlight time is balanced all facilitate the concious creation of story.

      My problem here is that I do not have a precise enough definition of Myth to make the connection.  I believe that Sim play can not create Myth because it can not create Story.  However, I do not think that Narrativist play's potential to create story necessitates the creation of Myth as well.

      Now, the idea that recorded media is just another form of text.  While the fact that film is more chaotic (in that it has more oppurtunities for feedback and iteration, as in Chaotic Math) than "pure" text may allow it to achieve something closer to Myth (again, my definition here is rather fuzzy, and may be seriously clouding the issue), once it has been recorded the final audience has no oppurtunity for feedback.  For this reason I believe that film (and any other form of recorded media) is also misleading when used to describe RPGs.  I think Ron is dead on when he compares RPG play to a garage band performance, the audince feeds back in real time.  This form of feedback is present in any kind of live performance.

      I would be rather interested to hear both Chris's and Christopher's takes on that.  I don't think either of you would disagree with the idea that recorded media is just another form of text (or that it at least acts very much like text), with the major difference being that it is often intended for audiences of more than one.

      Thomas


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: clehrich on December 05, 2004, 01:20:16 PM
      Quote from: LordSmerf
      I would be extremely interested in pursuing the idea that Sim play wants to, and cannot attain, Myth.  Especially with the idea that Nar play isn't primarily concerned with Myth, but can attain it none the less.
      I'm not sure if you mean to paraphrase me, but just to be clear I do not think that Nar play can construct myth in a strict sense.  I do think it can construct a peculiar form of artwork that negotiates the tension between myth and literature (broadly construed).
      Quote
      I would also be exremely interested in pursuing the distinction between recorded story telling in which the audience does not feed back into the story (Film, Literature, Television) and "living" story telling in which the audience is able to feedback (RPGs, Theater, Oral Performance).  Both of these may be better suited to new threads, though I think that the latter is probably closely tied to textuality.
      I'm happy with them here.  If others feel this is very confusing, they should PM me and I'll take it from there in terms of splits.
      Quote
      Here's my take on Sim play and Myth.  I believe that Primetime Adventures ....
      This all sounds very plausible to me.  I confess that I haven't read a lot of the Actual Play PTA threads; I'll do that fairly soon so I can have a concrete sense of what you mean.
      Quote
      My problem here is that I do not have a precise enough definition of Myth to make the connection.  I believe that Sim play can not create Myth because it can not create Story.  However, I do not think that Narrativist play's potential to create story necessitates the creation of Myth as well.
      I will work on a clear statement of what I mean by myth, which should clarify at least where I'm coming from.  One point I can make quite quickly, however, has to do with Story.  If we take, for the sake of present discussion, Ron's definition of story
      Quote from: In The Provisional Glossary, Ron
      Story
      An imaginary series of events which includes at least one protagonist, at least one conflict, and events which may be construed as a resolution of the conflict. A Story is a subset of Transcript distinguished by its thematic content. Role-playing may produce a Story regardless of which Creative Agenda is employed.

      Transcript
      An account of the imaginary events of play without reference to role-playing procedures. A Transcript may or may not be a Story.
      If this be taken as read (and please note that I have not to this point been using these terms in exactly this fashion, which I should have), then I do think that myth necessarily creates story, but that the nature of "conflict" and "resolution of the conflict" are very different from what I'm pretty sure Ron has in mind.  In other words, while it is accurate to say that myth always contains "story" by this definition, I think that the connotations of the word "story" are very much at odds with what myth creates.  I think fabula is somewhat closer, but is again a somewhat different beast.  I realize that all this is negative, but I'm going to need a little time to generate an explanation of what I'm talking about.
      Quote
      Now, the idea that recorded media is just another form of text.  While the fact that film is more chaotic (in that it has more oppurtunities for feedback and iteration, as in Chaotic Math) than "pure" text may allow it to achieve something closer to Myth (again, my definition here is rather fuzzy, and may be seriously clouding the issue), once it has been recorded the final audience has no oppurtunity for feedback.  For this reason I believe that film (and any other form of recorded media) is also misleading when used to describe RPGs.  I think Ron is dead on when he compares RPG play to a garage band performance, the audince feeds back in real time.  This form of feedback is present in any kind of live performance.
      I'm not sure I know exactly what you mean by "feedback."  I should say that I know next to nothing about chaotic math, apart from having some time ago read James Gleick's book on chaos, so I'll need a definition I can handle.
      Quote
      I would be rather interested to hear both Chris's and Christopher's takes on that.  I don't think either of you would disagree with the idea that recorded media is just another form of text (or that it at least acts very much like text), with the major difference being that it is often intended for audiences of more than one.
      Unquestionably I'd agree that such recording of media produces text in some sense.  I'm not sure that the difference has to do with the size of the audience, but I think I see what you mean.

      In just a minute, I'll post something about myth that can at least get things started on that front; a really detailed exposition from me will have to wait, but I'd like to open discussion enough so that it doesn't collapse into "what does Chris think myth is?"


      Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
      Post by: clehrich on December 05, 2004, 02:13:41 PM
      Mythology: Preliminary Notes

      Okay, so here’s a draft chunk of a very long essay I’m working on at the moment.  The point of the chunk is to define myth conceptually, using what I consider the current state of the art, which is to say the Mythologiques of Claude Lévi-Strauss.  I am happy to debate whether these texts are indeed the state of the art, but that should be another thread.

      Ron, if you think this ought to start its own thread, feel free to shift it.

      Lévi-Strauss really is a great deal more difficult and complicated than I make him out to be.  I have been struggling with these texts for some years now, and this is one aspect of my current understanding of his thinking on myth.  I have also read the majority of professional criticism about these works, I think with some understanding, and I believe that very few people have ever fully understood what Lévi-Strauss is up to.  I am not at all convinced that I have either, but I do think I’m well along.  The two most important and famous exceptions were unfortunately written before the final volume was completed, and thus are somewhat partial and preliminary; they are:
        Edmund Leach,
      Claude Lévi-Strauss (New York: Viking, 1970)
      Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” Writing and Difference, trans.  Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980)[/list:u]Also very useful:
        James A. Boon,
      From Symbolism to Structuralism: Lévi-Strauss in a Literary Tradition (Oxford: Blackwell, 1972)
      Marcel Hénaff, Claude Lévi-Strauss and the Making of Structural Anthropology, trans. Mary Baker (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998)
      Andrew von Hendy, The Modern Construction of Myth (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002)[/list:u]If you want to read up on this stuff, I would recommend that you start with Leach.  Then read Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), unfortunately a dreadful translation but the only one available; if you read French very well you should read La pensée sauvage instead.  Then read The Raw and the Cooked, very slowly.  Bear in mind that a lot of serious scholars I know consider this book so difficult as to be unreadable, but Leach is an extraordinarily good (if rather hostile) guide.  From there, the rest of Mythologiques and these other references are the obvious place to go.

      I apologize in advance for the length and complexity of this post.  The basic problem, apart from the complexity of Lévi-Strauss’s work, is that “myth” is very much more complicated than is usually realized within our culture.  This is not an academic game, but an attempt to make sense of the myths told and manipulated by a large number of tribal cultures around the world, whose total corpus of mythology is larger by several orders of magnitude than that readily accessible to modern Americans and Europeans; the myths are also, as you will see, a great deal stranger to us.  The priority for scholars of myth has thus been to describe adequately what tribal peoples are doing; that there may be a partial mismatch with what we commonly think of as myth is a secondary or even irrelevant concern.

      Please note a few things in advance:
      • There is some context missing here, notably any explanation of why I’m doing this.  That’s because this is only a piece of a larger essay.  Where I have made an alteration or insertion from the longer form, it is marked in double square brackets [[like this]].
      • A few citations and one quote are partial.  I don’t have the texts to hand at the moment.
      • There are references to the odd term that may well not be familiar to you; the one that stands out to me is Gesammtkunstwerk.  I have tried not to use these much, but where I have you should be able to look them up on Google and find considerable material.  I do not think that I have ever used terms of art or jargon in any important way without defining them.  Please note that I consider any word that can be found in an ordinary college dictionary, not marked as archaic, obsolete, obscure, or technically restricted, as a legitimate word.
      • This is not in its final form.  Please do not cite or quote from this text outside of the Forge.[/list:u]

        ----

        In [[...]] the four-volume Mythologiques (roughly Mytho-logics), [[Claude]] Lévi-Strauss focuses intently on the myths of tribal America, beginning in the South and slowly expanding to encompass the North.  His analysis is rigorous, exceedingly difficult and complex, and demonstrates that the myths are anything but the grandiose morality-plays we have come to expect from Greco-Roman and Norse mythology.  Rather, these American myths appear as systematic workings-through of complex cultural and philosophical problems, rendered through a language and a system seemingly quite unfamiliar to us.  In order to effect this comparison between myth and roleplaying games [[which is the intent of the complete essay I’m writing]], then, we need first to see clearly what sort of “myth” he has in mind, and also to understand its historical relations to more familiar mythology. [[...]]

        The following is what Lévi-Strauss takes as his starting-point for analysis in Mythologiques, the “key myth.”  It is chosen, as he says, for contingent reasons; the myth is not more primary, or more complete, or more archaic, or anything of the sort.  He claims, in fact, that he could have started with any myth of the several hundred he ends up discussing and reached the same conclusions; that I doubt this particular claim does not invalidate the analyses.  This myth is one of many “told by the Bororo Indians of central Brazil, whose territory use to extend from the upper reaches of the Paraguay River to beyond the valley of the Araguaya.”  The text is rather long, but is sufficiently detailed that we can see clearly what sort of artistic productions Lévi-Strauss means by the term “myth.”  Note that the original text as recorded in his book includes a number of Bororo terms important to his later analysis; I have dropped most of these without editorial remark.
          M1 (key myth).  Bororo: o xibae e iari.  “The macaws and their nest” [1]

          In olden times the women used to go into the forest to gather the palms used in the making of [the] penis sheaths which were presented to adolescents at their initiation ceremony.  One youth secretly followed his mother, caught her unawares, and raped her.

          When the woman returned from the forest, her husband noticed feathers caught in her bark-cloth belt, which were similar to those worn by youths as an adornment.  Suspecting that something untoward had occurred, he decreed that a dance should take place in order to find out which youth was wearing a similar adornment.  But to his amazement he discovered that his son was the only one.  The man ordered another dance, with the same result.

          Convinced now of his misfortune and anxious to avenge himself, he sent his son to the “nest” of souls, with instructions to bring back the great dance rattle, which he coveted.  The young man consulted his grandmother who revealed to him the mortal danger that such an undertaking involved; she advised him to obtain the help of the hummingbird.

          When the hero, accompanied by the hummingbird, reached the aquatic region of souls, he waited on the shore, while the hummingbird deftly stole the rattle by cutting the short cord from which it was hanging.  The instrument fell into the water, making a loud noise—jo.  Alerted by this noise, the souls fired arrows from their bows.  But the hummingbird flew so fast that he reached the shore safe and sound with the stolen rattle.

          The father then ordered his son to fetch the small rattle belonging to the souls; and the same episode was repeated, with the same details, only this time the helpful animal was the quick flying dove.  During a third expedition, the young man stole some buttore; these are jingling bells made from the hoofs of the wild pig, which are strung on a piece of rope and worn as anklets.  He was helped by the large grasshopper, which flew more slowly than the birds so that the arrows pierced it several times but did not kill it.

          Furious at the foiling of his plans, the father invited his son to come with him to capture the macaws, which were nesting in the face of a cliff.  The grandmother did not know how to ward off this fresh danger, but gave her grandson a magic wand to which he could cling if he happened to fall.

          The two men arrived at the foot of the rock; the father erected a long pole and ordered his son to climb it.  The latter had hardly reached the nests when the father knocked the pole down; the boy only just had time to thrust the wand into a crevice.  He remained suspended in the void, crying for help, while the father went off.

          Our hero noticed a creeper within reach of his hand; he grasped hold of it and with difficulty dragged himself to the top of the rock.  After a rest he set out to look for food, made a bow and arrows out of branches, and hunted the lizards which were abundant on the plateau.  He killed a lot of them and hooked the surplus ones to his belt and to the strips of cotton wound round his legs and ankles.  But the dead lizards went bad and gave off such a vile smell that the hero fainted.  The vultures fell upon him, devoured first of all the lizards, and then attacked the body of the unfortunate youth, beginning with his buttocks.  Pain restored him to consciousness, and the hero drove off his attackers which, however, had completely gnawed away his hindquarters.  Having eaten their fill, the birds were prepared to save his life; taking hold of his belt and the strips of cotton round his arms and legs with their beaks, they lifted him into the air and deposited him gently at the foot of the mountain.

          The hero regained consciousness “as if he were awaking from a dream.”  He was hungry and ate wild fruits but noticed that since he had no rectum, he was unable to retain the food, which passed through his body without even being digested.  The youth was at first nonplused and then remembered a tale told him by his grandmother, in which the hero solved the same problem by modeling for himself an artificial behind out of dough made from pounded tubers.

          After making his body whole again by this means and eating his fill, he returned to his village, only to find that it had been abandoned.  He wandered around for a long time looking for his family.  One day he spotted foot and stick marks, which he recognized as being those of his grandmother.  He followed the tracks but, being anxious not to reveal his presence, he took on the appearance of a lizard, whose antics fascinated the old woman and her other grandson, the hero’s younger brother.  Finally, after a long interval, he decided to reveal himself to them.  (In order to re-establish contact with his grandmother, the hero went through a series of transformations, turning himself into four birds and a butterfly, all unidentified.)

          On that particular night there was a violent wind accompanied by a thunder storm which put out all the fires in the village except the grandmother’s.  Next morning everybody came and asked her for hot embers, in particular the second wife of the father who had tried to kill his son.  She recognized her stepson, who was supposed to be dead, and ran to warn her husband.  As if there were nothing wrong, the latter picked up his ceremonial rattle and welcomed his son with the songs of greeting for returned travelers.

          However, the hero was full of thoughts of revenge.  One day while he was walking in the forest with his littler brother, he broke off a branch of the api tree, which was shaped like a deer’s antler.  The child, acting on his brother’s instructions, then managed to make the father promise to order a collective hunt; in the guise of a small rodent he secretly kept watch to discover where their father was lying in wait for the game.  The hero then donned the false antlers, changed into a deer, and rushed at his father with such ferocity that he impaled him on his horns.  Without stopping, he galloped toward a lake, into which he dropped his victim, who was immediately devoured by the Buiogoe spirits who are carnivorous fish [piranha].  All that remained after the gruesome feast were the bare bones which lay on the bottom of the lake, and the lungs which floated on the surface in the form of aquatic plants, whose leaves, it is said, resemble lungs.

          When he returned to the village, the hero took his revenge on his father’s wives (one of whom was his own mother).[/list:u]
          Quite early in the thousand-odd pages of analysis extending from this key myth that make up the four volumes of Mythologiques, Lévi-Strauss notes that the total lack of moral message is really there: “The myth itself...does not render a verdict, since the hero begs for and obtains help from the grandmother, thanks to whom he survives all the ordeals.  In the long run, it is the father who appears guilty, through having tried to avenge himself, and it is he who is killed.”  In many ways, it is this “curious indifference toward incest” [2] that provokes the whole analysis.  And indeed the other myths, the ones he is able to render in this much detail at least, are not dissimilar in style: earthy, crude at times, seemingly incomprehensible, almost amoral, and apparently without purpose.  Yet if we are to understand Lévi-Strauss at all, and moreover to make the comparison to roleplaying games, we must have a working grasp of this sort of myth.

          Without wishing to reduce any more excessively than is unfortunately necessary the complexity of Lévi-Strauss’s many arguments, we might say, with Mircea Eliade, that “[myth as we generally get it is worked-over by lots of scholars of whatever period; we need to get back to the archaic – [[this is a paraphrase not a quote]].]” [3]  To put it differently, the sort of myths that we usually think of—Hercules, the Golden Apples, Ragnarok—have been put in a literary form, in fact a relatively fixed form, and thus their original spontaneous nature has to a great extent been lost.  If we are to make a serious comparison of what roleplaying games are about to what myth is about, we must set aside this preconception of literariness and move back into the spontaneous. [[....]]

          For this purpose, Lévi-Strauss proposed a little-understood musical analogy.  He suggests that there is a kind of spectrum of developmental artistic forms (ones whose performative expressions develop over a span time, as is not the case with painting for example), ranging from music on one end to poetry on the other, with ordinary fiction, literary text that is, somewhere in between and shading toward poetry.

          The first issue here is the relation of the form to language, a central issue for him.  Poetry is quite untranslatable; its effects are generated not narratively but in terms of the nature of a specific language itself.  The only translation possible is a new poem.  Music, however, is not linguistically bounded at all; it means (in whatever sense it may be said to mean) without regard to words, and may in some respects be said to be a universal art-form.  At the same time, poetry is ultra-representative, representing not only images and events but also sounds, feelings, concepts, and indeed the totality of its language, and very its boundedness in language is also what allows it to capitalize upon and transcend the ordinary limits of language.  Music, however, we might call infra-representative, for apart from some few musical movements that tried to render sound-pictures, music represents through only its own form and cannot generate images or language directly.  For this reason music is fully translatable but non-representative, while poetry is untranslatable but supremely representative.  Fiction thus stands between, but is closer to poetry, because it leans on language to provide representation.  And we may say that fiction is to poetry as myth is to music.

          Myth, says Lévi-Strauss, is made up of a series of discrete elements of structure, and is non-representational.  Therefore it is almost fully translatable; you only need to know what “sun” means in a given culture to be able to render its relations to other things in the myth; at the same time, the totality of what “sun” means may well be an enormous body of connotations having to do with the daily lives and rituals of the culture.  Just as music is non-representational, so too are the signs and structures of myth not “about” what they seem to refer to.

          Second, music runs on structure while poetry runs on words.  For example, the musical fugue is about laying out a theme and then putting it in relation to itself through a number of basic transformations that engender great complexity in the procedure.  The object of the game of fugue—once an improvisational form, let us remember—is to take this very difficult situation and, through a set of established rules, come to perfect harmony in all voices.  Poetry is not about this at all, says Lévi-Strauss.  The point of poetry is to manipulate words and meanings, not structures; the structures are used to generate meaning, not as an end in themselves.  In music, one can start with a meaning, but the logic of how the piece plays out is about rules.  In poetry, rules are made to be broken and challenged.

          Myth, says Lévi-Strauss, is again more like music than poetry.  It plays with structure.  The objects and events of myth are structural, not meaningful in the representational sense.  The myth-teller proposes a difficult problem, not unlike the theme with variations in the fugue, and then he runs with that problem, drawing in everything he knows of the culture that seems to fit structurally—and regardless of apparent meaning in an ordinarily narrative sense—until he has resolved the problem coherently.

          One effect of all this that does not seem to interest Lévi-Strauss (though he does not deny it at all) but is very relevant to our purposes with roleplaying games is that music and myth are naturally performed or improvised forms, bounded by rules, while fiction and poetry are naturally inscribed and revised forms.  The novel or poem strives for perfection as itself, an object, a totality.  Music and myth strive to be workings-through of something, and are in many respects non-repeatable.  Two great performances of a musical work will vary a great deal; this is called interpretation.  Two copies of Ulysses are identical.

          Now analytically, all of this raises an important methodological point that will clarify the whole musical analogy at last.  Let us suppose, Lévi-Strauss proposes, that scholars from the far future were to dig over our crumbling remnants and discover a large library of texts, completely intact.[4]  They know nothing whatever of our language, and have no way of restoring meaning to its words and phrases.  But by very careful analysis, they should be able to discern a number of consistent structures of our written language.  First, it is written right to left, then top to bottom.  Second, the discrete words (marked by spaces) are semantic units of some sort.  Third, from careful analysis of the patterns of usage, they should be able to discern inflection, parts of speech, and eventually our whole grammar and syntax.  But lacking a pictorial dictionary, they can never restore meaning to the system—only the system itself.

          But one class of texts would initially resist such analysis: orchestral scores.  This is because unlike other texts, these go left to right but they do not go top to bottom, since the complete column of all notes is played simultaneously by many voices.  And what Lévi-Strauss proposes, and this is very complex, is that myth is like such scores—except laid flat.

          Put that baldly, this makes little sense, but it is essential.  Let us suppose that each myth is one long musical phrase, performed by a particular instrument.  And suppose further that the totality of the American mythic corpus is a vast symphony with a huge orchestra.  But all we have is individual voices playing independently: these are the individual myths.  If we simply play them all at once, we have cacophony.  If we play them individually, we never hear harmony.  So the task of the analyst is to discern, in the same way as he discerned the system of grammar and syntax that undergirded ordinary text, the way in which this harmony is constructed.  With that in hand, the analyst can, very slowly and with infinite pains, put all the pieces in their right order and their appropriate instrumental voices and restore the complete symphony.

          Read correctly, Mythologiques is a prelude to such a construction.  A symphony in its own right, but only a tiny fragment of the total resonance of the complete work.

          And, says Lévi-Strauss, the natives can hear this work, because they live it.  They cannot hear the whole thing, but they can hear rich sonatas and fugues, walzes and mazurkas, operas and lieder.  These compositions are woven of the texture and fabric of the rich depth and meaning of their lives, of the world around them.  Through an extraordinary and ongoing work that has taken millennia, the American natives have composed their whole world as a musical Gesammtkunstwerk to make Wagner shudder in humiliation and self-pity.

          That is myth.  And to be clear: I think he’s right.


             Notes
             1. Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked (1964), trans. John and Doreen Weightman (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 35-37.
             2. Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked, 48.
             3. Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harvest, 1959), XXX.  Note that Lévi-Strauss and Eliade never appear to have referred to each other, although as the two dominant thinkers on myth, both writing in French, working at the same time, both voracious readers, they must surely have read each other.  It is perhaps not unreasonable to think that Lévi-Strauss would object very much to this use of Eliade to explain his ideas, but as Jonathan Z. Smith has noted, their methods are not at base dissimilar: Smith, “In Comparison a Magic Dwells,” Imagining Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), XXX.
             4. This analogy is drawn from “The Structural Study of Myth,” but I have developed it in a direction consistent with the later formulations in Mythologiques: Claude Lévi-Strauss, “The Structural Study of Myth,” Structural Anthropology, trans. Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf (New York: Basic Books, 1963), XXX-XXX.


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: LordSmerf on December 05, 2004, 10:22:17 PM
        Okay.  I think I understand Levi-Strauss, at least as you've presented him here (which probably means I understand nothing, maybe I should learn French).  Let me see if I can summarize.  I realize that this is probably an over-simplification, so please correct me where I'm off.

        First, there are really two uses for the word "myth".  There is the "individual myth" which is somewhat analagous to a single part in a piece of music (the first violin or the first oboe).  These are the myths that are turned into stories and recorded.

        The second use is rougly analogous to the symphony as a whole.  It is not a compilation of all the individual myths (imagine playing all the parts from all of Beethoven's symphonies simultaneously), but is instead a careful reconstruction of selected individual myths that are structurally linked.

        If the above is true, and there are two distinct uses of "myth", which of these are you saying that RPGs strive to create?

        Thomas


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 05, 2004, 10:53:10 PM
        Quote from: LordSmerf
        First, there are really two uses for the word "myth".  There is the "individual myth" which is somewhat analagous to a single part in a piece of music (the first violin or the first oboe).  These are the myths that are turned into stories and recorded.
        Properly speaking, it wouldn't be the entire part, but only a section.  But I don't think that's a particularly essential difficulty here.  It's weirder than that -- I'll come back to it in a sec.
        Quote
        The second use is rougly analogous to the symphony as a whole.  It is not a compilation of all the individual myths (imagine playing all the parts from all of Beethoven's symphonies simultaneously), but is instead a careful reconstruction of selected individual myths that are structurally linked.
        I think this would best be called "mythology."  Thus one Bororo myth is part of (tribal) American mythology, etc.  Levi-Strauss is talking about a totality here: the complete Mythologiques, in four volumes, takes on something on the order of a thousand myths, and claims that although this is barely scratching the surface they are all deeply intertwined.
        Quote
        If the above is true, and there are two distinct uses of "myth", which of these are you saying that RPGs strive to create?
        They're not entirely separable, but I suppose a given RPG would be striving to create a myth.  Better, it would be striving to contribute to and perform within mythology.  Which, I don't know; I think the "totality" concept here is very different, as there isn't really a culture-complex in question.  

        Okay, I need to clarify, but this is really hard.

        At base, it's not easy or probably possible to slice up "a myth" as an independent unit.  Suppose we take the opening of Beethoven's 5th, as a bit everyone out there knows: da da da dummm.  Okay now just take the cellos in that.  Let's for the moment call that a myth.

        Now we get the second iteration of the same theme, and we look again at the celli.  Is that the same myth, or a different one?  Or is it part of the same one?  What about the bassi, which are doing much the same thing at the same time, in unison?

        Now skip let's say five minutes into the first movement.  Beethoven is a very elegant composer, and the work is really tightly woven.  So whatever the celli are doing right now has very complicated but clearly identifiable (to musicians, musicologists and enthusiasts, anyway) relations with the original theme.  So is that a new myth?  Or is that the same one with certain inversions and alterations?

        See, I don't think Levi-Strauss thinks this is the right question.  He thinks this is exactly the question everyone always tries to get at: what are the units of "myth", as in how big are they, where do they stop and start, and that stuff.  And he thinks that the only answer is down at the level of the "mytheme," which is more or less equivalent to a note or perhaps a chord.

        So when I say that RPGs are striving to create myth, I mean that in the same way as we might say a musician is trying to create music.  I don't really mean a piece of music, or all of music in its entirety.  Just, you know, music.  Just so, RPGs are trying to create myth -- not a myth, or a mythology, or whatever.  Just myth.

        That's one of the many things I really like about this analogy.  The more you fight with it, the weirder and yet more illuminating it gets.

        If you care, by the way, you don't have to learn French for this.  The Weightmans, who translated most of Levi-Strauss's work, are wonderful translators and did a brilliant job.  The opening (called "Overture", as you should have guessed) of The Raw and the Cooked is amazingly dense and intricate but it explains this analogy really beautifully.  You will need to know just a tiny bit about Serialism, the musical movement associated largely with Arnold Schoenberg, but the contents of an encyclopedia article will be sufficient.

        And then you go on and start reading the actual book on myth and all of a sudden you feel like your brain is going to explode.

        You know me, people.  I like this stuff.  I read Derrida and Levi-Strauss and Kant and whatnot for fun.  I wrote a whole goddamn book on a truly bizarre piece of linguistic occult philosophy.  But The Raw and the Cooked and it sequels, i.e. the entirety of Mythologiques in four volumes, is bar none the hardest book I have ever read.  Bar none.

        Be warned.  Be afraid.  If you come whining, I will slap your silly behind.  Absolute genius, but pack a lunch and plan to stay for the day.

        And do not, under any circumstances, ask me questions about this apologizing for not getting it quite right.  Ask any questions you want, and I'll do my best, which won't be good enough I suspect.  Nobody gets it quite right, certainly not the first few times reading through the entire series.  Nobody.

        Except the late, great, Jacques Derrida, of course.


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: LordSmerf on December 05, 2004, 10:54:10 PM
        Ah, sorry, I forgot to define "feedback" in the chaotic math sense.  Chaotic math is the basis for "chaos theory" and "feedback" is used to describe two things that must be present for a system to be deemed chaotic.

        The first is that it is sensitive to initial conditions.  This basically means that two chaotic systems with however small a difference in their initial state will end up with a finite difference between their states and that two systems that are completely identical will remain identical.  This is dependent upon the fact that chaotic systems are iterative, which means that they repeat the same calculations over and over with the result being that any small difference in initial conditions is magnified with each iteration.  This is where we get the so-called "butterfly effect" where a butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo causing a hurricane in New York.

        The second part of feedback is that chaotic systems are transitive.  This means that any change to the system on any single iteration of that system will have an impact on the next interval, which in turn will have an impact on the following interval and so on.  Basically, any change to the system has a permanent (and generally increasing) impact on the system in much the same way as a small initial difference does.  The variations are amplified through iteration.

        So, any live performance is subject to sensitivity to initial conditions and will tend to evidence transitivity.  There is no way to duplicate the initial conditions, and the conditions as the system (in this case the performance) progresses will further change.  These changes will in turn impact the remainder of the performance.

        Once something is recorded (which I am basically saying is "text" regardless of the actual medium) the initial conditions are now fixed.  Additionally text is not transitive, changing the introduction to a text does not change the remainder of the text.

        I should note here that chaotic math is a minor interest of mine.  As such I grasp only its most basic principles.  Therefore, if anyone who is better versed in it sees errors in anything I have put forward I would appreciate correction.

        Note: Crossposted with Chris.

        Thomas


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 05, 2004, 11:42:59 PM
        Quote from: LordSmerf
        Ah, sorry, I forgot to define "feedback" in the chaotic math sense.  Chaotic math is the basis for "chaos theory" and "feedback" is used to describe two things that must be present for a system to be deemed chaotic.
        Very interesting stuff.  Hmm.  I'll have to think about how that relates in more detail and with more time, but....
        Quote
        The first is that it is sensitive to initial conditions.  ....

        The second part of feedback is that chaotic systems are transitive. ....
        Let me make sure I have this right.

        So you have a system in place.  Feedback is strongly reflective of the system in question; it doesn't just happen, but happens in a way structured by the system.  Second, change introduced at any point in the system will ultimately affect the whole system over the course of successive iterations.  And that in turn alters the way point #1 works, because the "system in place" has changed, and so on.

        Have I got that right?

        Assuming more or less so.... yes.  For Levi-Strauss, anyway, myth does indeed work like this.  I'd tend to agree.  Every mythic performance is completely dependent on everything else in the system, borrowing from it but actually more than that part of it.  Furthermore, every mythic performance necessarily introduces some changes, and those never completely damp out, as it were, but continue throughout the system in every level and iteration, forever.
        Quote
        So, any live performance is subject to sensitivity to initial conditions and will tend to evidence transitivity.  There is no way to duplicate the initial conditions, and the conditions as the system (in this case the performance) progresses will further change.  These changes will in turn impact the remainder of the performance.
        Do me a minor favor and don't use "impact" this way; it drives me buggy.  Sorry, just a pedantry.

        Anyway, yeah I think I get you, but I don't see why "the performance" at the tail-end of this quote is so restrictive.  Surely what is affected is the total system?

        I think you're restricting unnecessarily, by thinking a little too much in terms of something like text.  Myth is part of a system that includes all of daily life as well as ritual and the natural environment (as humanly interpreted).  So every mythic performance evidences such transitivity and feedback, sure, but it also has effects on the whole system of the culture, from top to bottom, every single time.  Sure, it's small, but it's there.

        This is, for Levi-Strauss, based on the structural theory of language, which it seems to me fits your description of a feedback system (term?).  Every time I use a word, it affects the meaning, weight, and value of that word in the entire system of the language, and by extension of all human languages.  Every single time.  Sure, it's a small effect, but it's real.  And so there is never a steady state, a baseline from which language proceeds, because the whole thing is perpetually in flux because of every performance of language.

        Are we talking about the same thing?  I think we are; I'm just saying that this is MUCH bigger than you're making it out to be -- it's everything.
        Quote
        Once something is recorded (which I am basically saying is "text" regardless of the actual medium) the initial conditions are now fixed.  Additionally text is not transitive, changing the introduction to a text does not change the remainder of the text.
        In the restrictive sense, yes, I see this.  In the larger sense, though, the text is part of a larger system and thus evidences this transitivity.  At the same time, the transitivity is not reflexive, or not mutual, or whatever.  I mean, the effects set in motion by the text can never really alter the text itself.  This is one of those odd alienated characteristics of writing.  And, incidentally, there are a few peculiarities of recording as "text" but in the main I think nobody serious about linguistic philosophy as it applies to text and writing would disagree that recordings are most certainly text.

        It should be pointed out that because text is not active, and thus it has to be approached by people living in a sphere of language, the transitivity does affect text via interpretation, but that's a small point here.
        Quote
        I should note here that chaotic math is a minor interest of mine.  As such I grasp only its most basic principles.  Therefore, if anyone who is better versed in it sees errors in anything I have put forward I would appreciate correction.
        Noted and seconded.

        So what I want to know is:

        1. Have I understood you correctly?
        2. Can you explain again, based on our greater mutual understanding at the moment, how you read RPGs in terms of such feedback loops?


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: LordSmerf on December 06, 2004, 07:07:08 AM
        I will answer your questions and then ask one of my own.

        Yes, I believe we understand one another when it comes to chaos.  You are correct to point out that all of myth collectively, like language, evinces feedback.  I would like to highlight that what actually happens is that chaotic principles are applied to myth on all levels.  Each individual performance meets the minimum criteria for a chaotic performance, and the behavior of myth on a large scale also meets those criteria.

        So, again, I believe we understand each other.

        Now, I have only just recently (in the past couple of days) begin to consider RPGs as chaotic.  The result is that I am not currently comfortable discussing RPGs as chaotic on the macro scale in the way that we can discuss the entire body of myth as chaotic.  That said, I would love to hear any thoughts you have on the subject.

        On the micro scale, by which I mean a single role playing session, I believe that RPGs are chaotic in the same way that most active social activities are.  Every time I sit down to play a game of Go it is a different game.  Social activities are sensitivie to initial condition and transitive.

        So it is not so much that RPGs are chaotic, but that social activity is chaotic.  I haven't considered the specific applications for RPGs, but I am slowly doing so.  This specific part of the topic may need to be tabled for a bit.

        Now that I answered your questions, or at least dodged them, I have one of my own.  Would would you, or as you understand him would Levi-Strauss, say that myth is like language in that there is a highly structured system that at this point has not been identified.  For example, in music we have the note, the chord, the measure, the phrase, and a whole heap of other structure.  We are able to analyze music using the concepts.  Myth is probably at least a little bit fuzzier, but do you think that similar structures also exist in myth as a whole?

        It may not really matter all that much to my next question anyway, but it might.

        Using the music analogy, what is the size of a single RPG session?  Is it roughly equivilent to a musical phrase?  A movement?  A single measure?  If it is larger than a single note, which I suspect it is, then what constitutes the "notes" of RPG play?  Or am I taking the music comparison too far?

        Thomas


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 06, 2004, 08:00:31 AM
        Quote from: LordSmerf
        Yes, I believe we understand one another when it comes to chaos. ... Now, I have only just recently (in the past couple of days) begin to consider RPGs as chaotic.  The result is that I am not currently comfortable discussing RPGs as chaotic on the macro scale in the way that we can discuss the entire body of myth as chaotic.  That said, I would love to hear any thoughts you have on the subject.
        I'm going to wait for your further meditations on that one, actually.  I'm not comfortable with chaos just yet.
        Quote
        Would ... you, or as you understand him would Levi-Strauss, say that myth is like language in that there is a highly structured system that at this point has not been identified.  For example, in music we have the note, the chord, the measure, the phrase, and a whole heap of other structure.  We are able to analyze music using the concepts.  Myth is probably at least a little bit fuzzier, but do you think that similar structures also exist in myth as a whole?
        Yes.  And he does think he's identified these structures, to a considerable degree.  See, all of what I've discussed here is by way of preamble.  It doesn't get into the thousand-odd pages of actually working out how this stuff operates.  Just so, language is a highly structured system that is pretty well understood at the core -- that's what linguists do.  They don't understand everything, by any means, but they understand an awful lot.  Levi-Strauss certainly didn't get as far as all of linguistics has, but he went a pretty amazingly long distance into discerning the deep structures and manipulations of myth.
        Quote
        Using the music analogy, what is the size of a single RPG session?  Is it roughly equivilent to a musical phrase?  A movement?  A single measure?  If it is larger than a single note, which I suspect it is, then what constitutes the "notes" of RPG play?  Or am I taking the music comparison too far?
        You're not taking the analogy too far, no, but you may be putting the cart before the horse.  I think the underlined clause is the right question.  If the "unit" of myth is the "mytheme," just as that of spoken language is the phoneme and that of written language arguably the grapheme, what is the RPG-eme?  (We'd need a nicer term than that, but still.)

        And I don't know the answer.  It's the most important basic question, without which analysis on a structural level cannot really begin, but I haven't spotted it yet.  What I need to do is work through a lot of Actual Play and what people say about it, and try to figure out how the myth-music analogy would apply in an extremely narrow and specific manner.  Then I can apply Levi-Strauss's method and try to isolate a few of these.  If I can find them, and then see their manipulations over time and across games, then I will be a long way toward demonstrating with reasonable certainty my argument about myth and RPGs, especially Sim.  But it's quite a task.

        For the record, my guess is that this is going to be very much smaller than a session, very much larger than a word spoken.  It's going to be something that, given an example, is really going to be quite meaningless without both system and play contexts, but will nevertheless be common, and indeed so ordinary that we don't even see it as a discrete thing unto itself most of the time.

        I have played with character for this purpose, but I don't think it works.


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: LordSmerf on December 06, 2004, 08:10:51 AM
        It appears that we understand each other.  It seems that we both need a good deal more time to think on the implications of chaos on RPGs.  That said, I would like to begin exploring the idea of the "RPG-eme".  I understand that you have not identified it to your satisfaction, but I would be interested in at least some exploratory discussion.  Unfortunately, after several attempts, I have been unable to figure out where to begin.  If you have any ideas I would love to discuss them.  If not then I guess we'll just have to come back to the topic after a while.

        Thomas


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: TonyLB on December 06, 2004, 08:27:57 AM
        Well, I've got some thoughts for discussion, which you can take or leave.

        Can a Game-ete (or whatever it ends up being called) be an action by a single player, or must it be some sort of interaction between two or more?

        Do Game-etes make up the entire substance of play, or are they distinct things that develop in the rich, nutritive broth of player-chatter and rolling dice?

        Can a game occur without creating Game-etes?


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: LordSmerf on December 06, 2004, 08:36:57 AM
        I think that I'm going to have to pass (for now) on your first two questions Tony.  I haven't had any time to think about them so any answers I gave would be pretty close to useless.

        That said, I think the answer to your third question is important.  The "game-ete" (or whatever) is the building block of the game.  I haven't really had time to think about this either, but I think that if something doesn't have a game-ete then it isn't a game.  In the same way that I would say that something that has no notes or rythm is not music.  (Please, don't get too caught up on the music reference, it's imperfect here since music is a bit more complex than notes and rythm.)  Basically there is a certain something that games have.  Without that something you don't have a game, you have some other thing.  That certain something is whatever we end up calling the game-ete.

        Thomas


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: lumpley on December 06, 2004, 09:05:06 AM
        Chris (Lehrich), for the sake of me a mere dog-paddler, could you say briefly what's the "mytheme"? Or would it be more proper to ask, what are some example mythemes?

        Like, if you asked me for some example phonemes I could make some for you and show you how sometimes they go together to build more complicated bits of speaking. Same with notes. Same with myth?

        Why isn't "the conflict" the RPG-eme? It seems a lot like phonemes and notes to me, in that you build more complicated and meaningful RPG-structures out of 'em, and if you asked me I could show you some examples and how they might go together, and you don't have a game without 'em.

        (The character would, then, be like the parts in chorale music: the basses are doing this note and the tenors are doing this other note, that's like my character doing this conflict and your character doing this other conflict.)

        -Vincent


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: ethan_greer on December 06, 2004, 10:32:47 AM
        My first stab at what a RPG-eme would be:

        A single instance of negotiation of credibility. (Credibility as defined by the Lumpley Principle, of course.)


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 06, 2004, 11:11:53 AM
        Quote from: lumpley
        Chris (Lehrich), for the sake of me a mere dog-paddler, could you say briefly what's the "mytheme"? Or would it be more proper to ask, what are some example mythemes?
        Well.  Yes.  That’s sort of the $64,000 question, isn’t it?  This thread is getting a lot more deeply into myth than I’d predicted, and it might be wise to split it off starting with Thomas’ queries that prompted the previous long block of text about a preliminary definition, but I’ll leave that to Ron’s judgment.

        Okay, let me give a concrete example that I think is relatively graspable.  This is borrowed from chapter 2 of The Savage Mind.  He wrote it much better, but in a strange order having to do with the context of the chapter, so I’m revising in a more obvious order and a simpler style; I'm also dropping about 50% of the analysis.  Let’s start with the data itself:
          The Hidatsa, a Native American tribe, had a practice of hunting eagles.  The eagle-hunter goes out into the high hills and digs a deep pit, then climbs down into it.  The hunter places a bloody rabbit carcass by the edge of the pit, then covers himself up with sticks and leaves as camouflage.  And then he waits, often for days.  Eventually, an eagle spots the rabbit and dives for it.  When it hits the rabbit, the hunter grabs the eagle by the talons, drags it close, and breaks its neck with his bare hands.

          This was actually done, unquestionably.

          Now Lévi-Strauss points out that the Hidatsa say that their ancestor, a bear or maybe a wolverine or something of the sort, taught them to do this.  They have a myth about it, unfortunately not recorded in detail.  And he notes that the hunters made a point of having contact of some sort with menstruating women (such as their wives or sisters) before hunting both the rabbit and the eagle.  At all other times this is an absolute taboo before hunting.

          Lévi-Strauss interprets as follows, keeping just to essentials.

          First of all, the animal ancestor was not a bear but a wolverine.  Wolverines (
        gulo gulo or gulo luscus) are much disliked by the Hidatsa usually, as well as by every other trapper, because they steal food from traps.  They will in fact head into a trap, spring it, and take the bait.  They do not care, and cannot be trapped.  “The only way to get rid of them is to shoot them,” as one white trapper put it.  They are also vicious killers with very little good to be said about them.

        But, says Lévi-Strauss, this is exactly the point in this case.  On the one hand, the wolverine is precisely he who can teach a hunter how to become a trap by getting into a trap without becoming entrapped, because he does this all the time.  On the other, the wolverine is understood to be a “low” animal—the metaphorical sense of low as both moral and physical works here—and the hunter is getting into a low position.  He is also killing a “high” animal, again in both a moral and a physical sense, as the eagle is both a high flyer and a sacred bird, and making himself low by contrast.  So the wolverine is the teacher because he is precisely analogous to the hunter.

        Second, the way theories of pollution in North American tribes work is that they are violations of sphere-boundaries.  If you put earth in water you get mud, polluting by crossing spheres.  Menstruation is pollution because blood and fluids should stay on the inside, and they here cross over to the outside.  If fish walk, or birds swim (and do not fly), or pigs fly, these things are  pollution because adjacent spheres have been allowed to merge.  But in this case, the hunter is underground and the eagle is in the sky, so the hunter needs these two spheres to come into contact: he needs the eagle to come to ground-level and his own hands to come up to ground-level, or he fails his hunt.  Therefore menstruation-pollution is a useful device for the purpose, as it produces exactly this effect, normally not desired but ideal in this case.  It is also helpful when killing the rabbit, because the rabbit is the instrument of this sphere-crossing, the mediating element that effects the relationship by bringing the eagle to the earth.

        So the wolverine has a number of meanings, and pollution has a number of meanings, and the clever Hidatsa see that eagle hunting is precisely analogous to those meanings.  So they mythically claim that the wolverine taught them, and they ritually contact menstruation-pollution, and this is intended to make the analogous effects take place in the hunt, netting them eagles.[/list:u]So here’re some mythemes:
          wolverine
          eagle
          menstrual blood[/list:u]This isn’t an exhaustive list even within this hunting practice, by any means, but these are mythemes.

          Now within the musical analogy, we might say that “wolverine” is a note or a small phrase.  By itself, it is meaningless.  But it refers to, is dependent upon, a system of harmony (including a scale) that is on the one hand natural and on the other cultural.

          On the natural end, we can look at the physics of sound waves and note that consonance works out mathematically, as for example a perfect fifth involves the waves lining up perfectly in certain ways – this was in a sense already noticed by Pythagoras, thus the Pythagorean scale, which is about the mathematical relationship between a length of string and its vibration and the sound it makes on the one side, and on the other what happens when you shorten the string by a specific fraction of the total length and thus raise the pitch by a precise interval.  Within the mythic context, “wolverine” refers naturally in this sense, because a wolverine is an actual animal with particular habits, and the Hidatsa are extremely careful observers who note these habits.  So it would be odd, if not in fact impossible, for the wolverine ancestor to have taught us how to fly, since wolverines do not fly.  This is about the natural dimension of the mytheme.  You with me?

          Now on the cultural end, within music you have the different scales and the different ways they’re used by different cultures and by any one culture.  So the blues scale has one cultural association, the harmonic scale in the West is often associated with Arabic music just as the pentatonic scale is often associated with Chinese music, and so on – not that these things necessarily have anything to do with actual Arabic or Chinese music themselves, but if we want to conjure up a notion of Arabic music we might use a raised 7th, and so on.  Everything about the use of “wolverine” (low in the moral sense, for example) that does not come from the natural qualities of the animal, that is everything about how that animal and its behavior is interpreted by the Hidatsa, is this cultural end.

          And the point is that a single note or phrase has no intrinsic meaning, but only has meaning by relation to the natural and cultural dimensions.  So if we play a harmonic scale, nature tells us that it is consonant, because the waves line up, and culture tells us to think “Arabia.”  But the scale itself means nothing.  And if we have a wolverine ancestor, that in itself means nothing, but nature tells us it can’t fly, and culture tells us it’s low and disliked.  Or menstrual blood: nature tells us again that it can’t fly, and that it’s periodic, and that it’s female; culture tells us it’s pollution, and that it bridges spheres.

          You can’t tell me that’s not cool.

          Oh, and you maybe see why I’m really very unsure of how to spot “gamemes”.

          ----
        Quote
        Why isn't "the conflict" the RPG-eme? It seems a lot like phonemes and notes to me, in that you build more complicated and meaningful RPG-structures out of 'em, and if you asked me I could show you some examples and how they might go together, and you don't have a game without 'em.
        Because I think "conflict" is made up of far too many things.  It's perhaps a category of gamemes, or whatever, sort of the way "pollution" might be a category of mythemes (from which the Hidatsa might have chosen all sorts of things, but chose menstrual blood in particular because of the meaning of blood in general as a mediator in normal hunting, e.g. the rabbit, but not in this case, so it has a second function perfectly consonant with the practice) but we'd expect to find that there are a huge number of such gamemes, all quite discrete and manipulated differently.  I think they're going to look a great deal like mythemes, to be honest.  I mean, I could sort of imagine "Fighter" as a gameme in AD&D, or "10' Pole," or "10x10 room," or something like that.  But there are a million possibilities here, and I'm not at all confident that these things should be identified in that way.  But maybe.


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: lumpley on December 06, 2004, 11:32:41 AM
        I think I understand. Thanks!

        -Vincent


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 06, 2004, 11:42:47 AM
        As a follow-up to the Hidatsa, we can briefly discern the difference between “structure” and “mytheme” there, which may help us with gamemes.

        Okay, so in hunting you normally have the following structure (among others):
          hunter – weapon – blood – prey [/list:u]Lévi-Strauss usually would write this:
          hunter : weapon :: blood : prey[/list:u]This is backwards of the usual way of doing analogies, where Giant : Midget :: Tall : Short.  But what Lévi-Strauss is getting at is that the relation hunter – prey is mediated by another relation, weapon – blood.  In other words, if the relation weapon – blood does not happen causally, that is if the weapon (let’s say a bow and arrow) doesn’t cause blood, then the hunter – prey relation doesn’t happen because the prey never gets nailed.

          Now the thing is that each of these terms (hunter, blood, etc.) is empty; it just describes a relation, and anything can be put in it so long as it fits the relation in question:
          Hidatsa hunter : bow & arrow :: blood : rabbit[/list:u]Note that “blood” is no longer just an emptiness, because now it’s really blood, actual red stuff.

          Now in eagle hunting:
          Hidatsa hunter : ??? :: ??? : eagle [/list:u]There isn’t a weapon here, and there isn’t any blood, so we have a problem: the relation desired (the hunter gets an eagle) isn’t going to happen if we can’t fill in the blanks.  So we notice some things:
          Eagle : talons :: blood : rabbit
          Hidatsa hunter : rabbit :: (-) blood : eagle [/list:u]So the eagle is a hunter too, and in the second series there isn’t any blood.  So we want to fill in that blank by adding blood – and a
        bloody rabbit carcass will fit pretty well.

        But the thing is, the rabbit isn’t really a weapon, now is it?  We’d have to make it into one.  So the structure is weak.  So we note another structure:
          Man : penis :: vagina : woman [/list:u]And in fact, we find that the Hidatsa use the same expression for the eagle striking the prey as they do for sex.  Which suggests, in turn, that the desired hunting relation has a sexual element, where the left side is male and the right is female.  So now we can fill it in:
          Hidatsa hunter : rabbit/hands (male
        [because the hunter is a man]) :: blood (female) : eagle [/list:u]And since there’s an obvious kind of female blood around, we use menstrual blood.

        So the mythemes here are especially the right sides of these equations, but really all the things you put into those slots: man, woman, eagle, wolverine, menstrual blood, rabbit (=prey), weapon, etc.  The structure is the set of slots and their relations.

        When we put mythemes into the slots, and we choose appropriate mythemes for the slots in question (e.g. we can’t put “wolverine” in the “blood” slot), then the whole structure is harmonious and confirms the whole system of our culture.

        Please bear in mind that Lévi-Strauss did all of this analysis, in the last post as well as this one, and made an argument about particular ethnographies of the Hidatsa, all in four very short pages.  And that Mythologiques essentially does exactly this sort of thing, at the same level of density, for about 1,000 pages.

        All of which is by way of saying that gamemes would apparently be things, objects or events that we manipulate and play with in games, but which under closer analysis are actually clusters of potential meaning.  We then have structures, which are made up of binary relations, and when we drop a gameme into one of those slots in the structure we constrain the gameme to mean one particular binary relation which was potential in the gameme but couldn’t be expressed except by relation to another gameme within a structure.

        But since we’re clever people, as soon as we express one relation (gameme A : gameme B), we notice that there are other reasons for this relation than were expressed by the larger structure A:B::C:D.  We may or may not choose to use these, but if we do then we find that A:B::C:D but also A:B::E:F, in which case C:D::E:F, which wasn’t at all apparent before but is now because A:B is mediating the relationship.

        Now please bear in mind that I do not as yet see the slightest practical use in this analysis.  I’m sure it’s potentially there, but I have no idea what it is or how it would work.  I’m formulating all this in order to help us identify what the hell a gameme would be, and what sorts of structures we might be talking about.  And if we can do this, I think we’ll have a very different way of analyzing gaming than we have had before, and one that I believe will have significant analytical and practical value.

        One reason I think this is that this manipulation of structure seems to me to have a lot to do with what System is.  We know from the Lumpley Principle that all the negotiation of what is entered into the SIS is system, and we know of lots of ways this plays out practically.  I’m saying that this is the set of rules that determine whether a given structure is understood to be valid, and whether the insertion of a particular gameme into a particular part of that structure is understood to be valid.  And thus system is itself a set of structural relations, as we’d expect from this model.  By determining or pinpointing how that works at a structural level, we should be able to work out some of how system really works at a deep level, all without going into vague aesthetic criteria like “well, everyone thought it was cool.”  Well, sure, but why did they think so?  This gets at how Creative Agenda really works, in short, and how it interacts very deeply with Social Contract.


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 06, 2004, 11:52:45 AM
        Quote from: TonyLB
        Can a Game-ete (or whatever it ends up being called) be an action by a single player, or must it be some sort of interaction between two or more?
        Could be either, I should think.  The interaction is implicit, in the same way that "wolverine" appears to be a discrete object but really isn't because of the context.
        Quote
        Do Game-etes make up the entire substance of play, or are they distinct things that develop in the rich, nutritive broth of player-chatter and rolling dice?
        Neither, I think.  I'd say that gamemes are fully constitutive of the total fabric of play, but that they interrelate entirely in a context of structures, and that therefore absolutely everything that occurs in a play session consists of manipulations of structure and gameme.  At the same time, there is a negotiation System in place that determines which of these infinite interrelations "count".
        Quote
        Can a game occur without creating Game-etes?
        Creating?  Yes, certainly.  Can a game occur without manipulating gamemes?  No.  But you have to understand, creating such things is almost never necessary: you borrow them from somewhere else, just as the Hidatsa don't bother inventing owl-bears but instead just borrow wolverines.  And I think this process of borrowing has a lot to do with Social Contract negotiations about use of genre (in a very broad sense), source material, history of play, personal lives, and the much larger social spheres of players' lives.

        One of the really brilliant things about how this structural analysis works is that it demonstrates that it isn't necessary really to invent mythemes or structures; this is the bricoleur who just takes crap out of his shed and puts it together.  The total result of this work is a new thing, and it's very much a creative act.  But the procedure does not create new pieces: for Levi-Strauss such creation of new pieces is distinctive to the scientific approach as opposed to the mythic approach.  I, like many others, am doubtful about this as a claim about science, but with respect to mythic thought it does seem to me that there is no need to invent anything because it's already provided to you by the vast totality of both nature and cultural context.


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Mark Woodhouse on December 07, 2004, 01:10:25 PM
        First, let me say that I am really resonating with Chris' approach here. He's putting into neat tidy - dare I say academic - form a lot of my own intuitions about What It Is That We Do. This could just be because I'm comfy with Structuralist approaches in myth & religion, but I think he' s cooking with gas.

        Now then, a seed for elaboration.

        Quote from: clehrich
        Can a game occur without manipulating gamemes?  No.  But you have to understand, creating such things is almost never necessary: you borrow them from somewhere else, just as the Hidatsa don't bother inventing owl-bears but instead just borrow wolverines.  And I think this process of borrowing has a lot to do with Social Contract negotiations about use of genre (in a very broad sense), source material, history of play, personal lives, and the much larger social spheres of players' lives.

        One of the really brilliant things about how this structural analysis works is that it demonstrates that it isn't necessary really to invent mythemes or structures; this is the bricoleur who just takes crap out of his shed and puts it together.  The total result of this work is a new thing, and it's very much a creative act.  But the procedure does not create new pieces: for Levi-Strauss such creation of new pieces is distinctive to the scientific approach as opposed to the mythic approach.  I, like many others, am doubtful about this as a claim about science, but with respect to mythic thought it does seem to me that there is no need to invent anything because it's already provided to you by the vast totality of both nature and cultural context.


        Ah, but we contemporary Western gamers, living in a post-modern, global culture, where everything around us is already "distorted" by constant bricolage .... do we lack the vocabulary of mutually understood meaning that is necessary for myth-making? Or alternatively - to springboard off the notion that the creation of new mythemes is the work of empiricism - is it that we have too rich an array of possible signs and symbols?

        This problem, then, might be the motive for all the accreta of roleplaying games - mechanics, setting-as-text, the "geek culture". A ritualisation of the mythmaking enterprise that defines and limits the symbol-sets deemed appropriate for use in this effort.

        Thoughts?


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 07, 2004, 02:05:24 PM
        Quote from: Mark Woodhouse
        Or alternatively - to springboard off the notion that the creation of new mythemes is the work of empiricism - is it that we have too rich an array of possible signs and symbols?

        This problem, then, might be the motive for all the accreta of roleplaying games - mechanics, setting-as-text, the "geek culture". A ritualisation of the mythmaking enterprise that defines and limits the symbol-sets deemed appropriate for use in this effort.
        My goodness.  Yes, that's exactly where I'm going, anyway.  I don't know that I'm right, or you are, but this is precisely how I do see it.

        Consider Narrativism for a second.  The bricolage procedure here is pre-constrained by an aesthetic criterion of structure: the manipulation of mythemes (gamemes?) must produce a particular kind of structure, which is any structure that is constitutive of Story.  Story is going to be defined locally, in reference to the kind of Story we want to tell and the sort of Premise and so forth we have in mind.  But not every sort of structure will serve this end, because we in a sense already have a larger structure into which the substructures must fit, and that larger structure is called Story.

        I'm not exactly sure how Gamism works in this context; any suggestions would be very welcome.

        But now turn to Simulationism.  This, as I've said before, is in its procedure the most like pure bricolage myth-making.  But as Mark says, our cultural universe is so insanely huge and (apparently, at least) ncoherent that we feel we cannot draw on everything.  So we impose other constraints -- but unlike with Narrativism, these constraints refer to the sources and types of gamemes, and not so much to the structures into which they must be fitted.  And what sort of sources do we choose?

        Well, in one very common version of Simulationism, which engendered the name I would assume, the source-range is defined by a particular type of, wait for it, "source material."  We're not allowed to draw from elsewhere for our mythemes.  Furthermore, we generally draw the structures into which we embed these mythemes again from that source material.  Since the source material is often in the form of a story, it can seem as though we're doing the same thing as Narrativism -- building a Story Now.  But from this perspective, this is not the case; the overlap is only a surface identity.

        In another common version of Simulationism, the source-range is defined by a history of play in some sense or other.  But this entails that the play material, the game texts first of all, must be extremely elaborate, because they must provide a lot of preformed mythemes and structures to play with.  Thus, I submit, the tendency of Sim games to generate enormous amounts of textual support, and furthermore the popularity of such support material with a given game's adherents.

        But the thing is, in order for us to recognize and be able to manipulate all these structures and mythemes, we need to be able to analogize them.  They need familiarity.  In Narrativism, this isn't a problem, because the only structure-types that really matter are Story, and we've grown up with stories and are constantly bombarded with them.  But in Simulationism, this isn't necessarily the case.  So what do we do?

        Well for one thing, we formulate structure as strongly and rigidly as possible -- thus a hell of a lot of complicated and interwoven rules.

        For another, as noted before, we provide so much source material that it isn't necessary to draw on anything else.

        And for another, and this is where it gets a little strange, we demand that the players immerse themselves (not in the technical sense of Immersion) in the source material so deeply that it becomes completely familiar.

        Now the thing is, in order for this to work, in most cases it's going to be necessary to keep the constraints in place, otherwise we'll lose the sense of a limited body of mytheme and structure to play with, and we'll lose that deep knowledge and familiarity of the game-world.

        But the implication is that we won't draw on the rest of the world or the rest of our lives.  Going back to Mark's point about ritualization, we pre-define the game universe and our manipulation of it such that we agree not to connect it with the rest of the world.  This has real practical value in terms of Simulationism as an artistic endeavor, because it forces us to work deeply with a relatively limited symbol-set rather than spread out across the vast postmodern lunacy that is our total experiential world.

        And the danger, which I think is in fact empirically visible, is that ritualization imputes an ontological certainty to what it demarcates.  The Simulationist's world becomes real.

        Now I don't mean by this that Simulationism lends itself to Mazes and Monsters nonsense.  I think we all know that the danger of that has been much exaggerated and has nothing to do with Simulationism (or any other kind of gaming): it's about mental illness, if in fact it occurs much at all.

        But what I do mean is that the Simulationist provides himself with two universes, both real, both valid.  One is meaningful in an intellectually and emotionally satisfying sense, and is controllable to some degree through the ongoing process of bricolage; like the Hidatsa hunter, the Simulationist can perform an action, however mundane or peculiar, and have it "work" within a coherent system of meaning.  And the Simulationist has the challenge and excitement of making that work, which is much the same attractive quality that makes myth valuable to actual myth-making peoples.

        On the other hand, the real world is not particularly like this.  We rarely have much control, and for many people there isn't a cohesive sense of meaning.  I don't mean something weird, I mean the basic sort of existential angst that lots of people (including me) often feel in the modern world, the sense of being adrift and more or less alone in a world that doesn't really mean a whole lot and over which one actually has little or no control.  We seek out small social groups and treat them as worlds -- everyone does this, not just gamers -- in part because such worlds are meaningful and coherent, or can be so.  And I think that the Simulationist gamer has a system by which to extend this from a loose, touchy-feely "getting together" sense of meaning into a deep, intricate, rich, and intellectually and emotionally satisfying world.

        Thus, I submit, the attraction to the Simulationist gamer of subculture.  Or, vice-versa, the attraction to the subculture-identifying gamer of Simulationism.  It seems to me that V:tM played on this beautifully, as did in a weird way Werewolf, by correlating the same issue of subculture to the in-game world.

        And thus the gist of my argument about what Simulationism is and how it works.  I hadn't really expected to be getting into this here, but there you are.  I'm working on a more precise and careful formulation at the moment, but it's going to be a while before I'm happy with it.

        Thoughts?


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Christopher Kubasik on December 07, 2004, 08:20:56 PM
        Hi guys.

        Thanks for this great discussion. Terrfic stuff.

        I have some thoughts, Chris. And, really, they're questions.  However, I seems to have lost the ability to phrase things as questions these days, and everything's coming out as strong statements.  Please bear with me!

        One

        When you write,

        Quote
        I mean the basic sort of existential angst that lots of people (including me) often feel in the modern world, the sense of being adrift and more or less alone in a world that doesn't really mean a whole lot and over which one actually has little or no control. We seek out small social groups and treat them as worlds -- everyone does this, not just gamers -- in part because such worlds are meaningful and coherent, or can be so. And I think that the Simulationist gamer has a system by which to extend this from a loose, touchy-feely "getting together" sense of meaning into a deep, intricate, rich, and intellectually and emotionally satisfying world.


        Couldn't that same desire condition and desire be applied to players who gather for a Nar session.  I'll refer you again to the "Moose in the City" game I mentioned upthread.  I don't think anyone reading the actual play thread of that game could believe it didn't deliver on the goods you describe here.  

        I believe, again, that in either Sim or Nar play, a "community" is formed that answers the needs you desribe.  The methods differ, but I'm not seeing much difference in need and outcome.  Thoughts?


        Two

        How much do the methods really differ?  Yes, there are difference.  But let's be careful.

        You suggest a Sim game works from a world different than our own.  But remember the Sorcerer One Sheet -- where the basic structure of a purposefully unique world, with rules and a thematic agenda are laid out for the players to riff on.  Nar players are also notorious for getting together for a session before actual play for character creation.  

        While they may not be drawing on previously established "worlds" they are drawing on materials and mixing them up to their own end (no matter how original), to create a "world" with the bare bones of rules to "immerse" themselves in.  (Again, as you point out, not "Immersion.")

        The use of Premise, whether named or not, also provides focus.  If I set up a HeroQuest character with torn loyalties between faith and a god, and make avenging my priest's death my goal while my family wishes I didn't puruse this (for 800 available reasons that'll make a good "story") I've set up a "focus" -- just like the Sim world.  It's all going to be right there on the Character Sheet.  It's what the game, and the attention of the players, will revovle around.  Same with Kickers, Mountain Witch Fates and so on.

        I understand the specific of the "focus" objects are different.  But how different are they in Kind when it comes to actual effect?


        Three

        What about non-subculture play?  (And, again, I'm truly asking a question here.)  

        When I played AD&D in high school, we were a bunch of bright, pretty socially functioning kids that play in "Duke" Schirmer's English class at lunch.  Few of the players I GM'd for were really into Fantasy lit at all.  (I had only read The Hobbit, and a bunch of SF, really.  Greek myths were what it was all about for me when it came to fantasy.)

        There was no, "You're the outcasts" energy.  What energy there was came from Going into the Hole in the Ground and Discovering What's There.  I swear, the thought of reaching one of the dungeon enterances still makes me excited-fidgity like a little boy.  If you've got any ideas how to break that out with "meaning" I'd love to hear.  If just for kicks.

        Ron make sure to point out he sometimes plays in public places.  In sunlight even!  Clearly, part of his agenda is to move this beyond sub-culture round up the wagons status.  And yet, as noted in my points above, there's still the a) creation of a unique world, b) rules of world and logic and story (including premise issues) to focus on, c) to create a little community that d) in turn creates a "deep, intricate, rich, and intellectually and emotionally satisfying" story [not "world" as for Sim, but "story."]

        So, other than switchig out the word "story" for "world" what is the real difference?  (An honest question, not a rhetorical one.)


        And if there is no other difference, what are the differences between the focus on "world" rather than all the focus elements of "story" (premise, plot elements that get build up throug play)?

        And let's not forget that, as mentioned, there's world building going on in Nar play, too?  How's that figure into all this?

        And what of the Floor Show?

        Okay.  I'll stop.

        Thanks,

        Christopher


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Christopher Kubasik on December 07, 2004, 08:44:30 PM
        Oops.  Ignore this.


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Christopher Kubasik on December 07, 2004, 08:46:03 PM
        Oh.  And this one, too.


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 07, 2004, 08:57:45 PM
        Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
        I have some thoughts, Chris. And, really, they're questions.  However, I seems to have lost the ability to phrase things as questions these days, and everything's coming out as strong statements.
        You keep this up, you'll never make it on Jeopardy.  :-)

        One
        Quote
        ....
        Couldn't that same desire condition and desire be applied to players who gather for a Nar session.  I'll refer you again to the "Moose in the City" game I mentioned upthread.  I don't think anyone reading the actual play thread of that game could believe it didn't deliver on the goods you describe here.  

        I believe, again, that in either Sim or Nar play, a "community" is formed that answers the needs you desribe.  The methods differ, but I'm not seeing much difference in need and outcome.  Thoughts?
        Oh, I don't think there's any question that Nar (and presumably Gam) play generates community, meaning, and all that.  As you say, methods differ, but outcome doesn't.  I don't know what you mean by "need" -- can you clarify?

        Two
        Quote
        How much do the methods really differ?  Yes, there are differences.  But let's be careful.

        You suggest a Sim game works from a world different than our own.  But remember the Sorcerer One Sheet -- where the basic structure of a purposefully unique world, with rules and a thematic agenda are laid out for the players to riff on.  Nar players are also notorious for getting together for a session before actual play for character creation.  

        While they may not be drawing on previously established "worlds" they are drawing on materials and mixing them up to their own end (no matter how original), to create a "world" with the bare bones of rules to "immerse" themselves in.  (Again, as you point out, not "Immersion.")

        The use of Premise, whether named or not, also provides focus.  If I set up a HeroQuest character with torn loyalties between faith and a god, and make avenging my priest's death my goal while my family wishes I didn't puruse this (for 800 available reasons that'll make a good "story") I've set up a "focus" -- just like the Sim world.  It's all going to be right there on the Character Sheet.  It's what the game, and the attention of the players, will revovle around.  Same with Kickers, Mountain Witch Fates and so on.

        I understand the specific of the "focus" objects are different.  But how different are they in Kind when it comes to actual effect?
        I've quoted the whole block and highlighted a couple points.  This is an extremely subtle point, and the crux of my argument.  I may be wrong, please note, but I do think this is extremely important.  

        [NOTE: This subtle distinction comes entirely from Levi-Strauss -- I mention that only because I do not want anyone giving me credit for it -- and when I finally (after a lot of thought and several readings of The Savage Mind) really got it, it was like a bolt of lightning.  Jonathan Smith and I once discussed teaching Levi-Strauss, and we agreed that no matter how hard the book is, it's the one book in our vast field of theory, religion, anthropology, etc. that can really cause this incredible brain-short: if you "get it," it's really true what a reviewer said when the book came out -- "once you have mastered him, human history can never be the same...."  In fact, if you really get this, really "get" the structural view of the world, you will never be the same.]

        But let's do this through gaming.

        As I see it, Nar and Gam take their primary "focus" in terms of what they manipulate to be structures.  In Nar, this would be story-structures, from which we choose on the basis of what's appropriate to the Premise.  In Gam, I think this is about mechanics, though I'm still very shaky on Gam.  Then one draws on whatever source material(s) to throw stuff into that structure and confirm and extend that structure.  One effect of this is that Nar gaming in particular doesn't have a lot of need for additional structuring mechanisms, since it's constructed from structures in the first place, and so doesn't particularly lend itself to vast rules systems.  Gam is different, and again I'm a little unsure.

        Sim takes its primary "focus" to be "things," something a lot more like mythemes.  Objects, symbols, etc.; they may be fictional, but they are nonetheless concrete.  The structures, in that approach, are exceedingly fluid and loose because of this choice.  But because certainty is desirable (because of the ontological certainty desired), extremely rigid and complex rules (structures) are imposed.  The rhetorical claims that undergird those structures usually refer outward toward some sort of causality, the "how it would really happen in that world" sort of logic.

        I realize that the distinction of structure --> things vs. things --> structure may seem trivial.  But the obvious parallel from Levi-Strauss may open it up.  This is the distinction Levi-Strauss makes between science and "savage thought."  Basically the scientist starts with a bunch of structures, rules about the kind of universe he lives in, and then from this he generates (through analysis etc.) a bunch of things embedded in those structures.  [He's talking about applied science, but of a weird sort -- sort of the extreme high end of engineering or the applied end of very hard-core science.]  Ultimately, the end-point of this process returns to rules: he wants to find new rules to extend the old ones.  The mythic bricoleur starts with a bunch of things and infers some rules to make them go together, but he's much more willing to chuck out any rule if it makes the things "feel" better somehow.  In the end, he returns to things, applying the tentative rules to them to create more analogies, but the structures themselves can be discarded or set aside so long as the basic analogies of things are in place.

        So the Hidatsa don't start with a bunch of theoretical rules and ask, "How can I catch eagles?"  They start with "I catch eagles" and ask, "How can I slot that one in with everything else?"  This isn't explanation, by the way; it's making one set of things and another set of things "go together."  Here's Levi-Strauss (chapter 1 of The Savage Mind):
          It may be objected that science of this kind can scarcely be of much practical effect.  The answer to this is that its main purpose is not a practical one.  It meets intellectual requirements rather than or instead of satisfying needs.

          The real question is not whether the touch of a woodpecker's beak does in fact cure toothache.  It is rather whether there is a point of view from which a woodpecker's beak and a man's tooth can be seen as "going together" (the use of this congruity for therapeutic purposes being only one of its possible uses), and whether some initial order can be introduced into the universe by means of those groupings[/list:u]And a little earlier on the same page (page 9 in the English edition -- if you really "get" this sentence, you're in line for the bolt of lightning):
          Examples ... could be drawn from all parts of the world and one may readily conclude that animals and plants are not known as a result of their usefulness; they are deemed useful or interesting because they are first of all known.[/list:u]In the context of Nar and Sim, basically what I'm saying is that the Nar gamer says, "What thing will make Story Now happen?"  That's a practical question, and it's evaluated in practical terms.  The Nar-
        ingenieur (engineer/scientist) begins with his structures (Premise, Story) and finds or invents appropriate things to solve his practical problem.

        The Sim gamer says, "What is this thing?"  That's an intellectual and aesthetic question intrinsically, and it's evaluated on those terms.  The Sim-bricoleur begins with these things and finds or invents appropriate structures (rules, mechanics, etc.) to categorize and make sense of the things.

        Does that clarify matters, or make them worse?

        Three
        Quote
        What about non-subculture play?  (And, again, I'm truly asking a question here.)  
        ....
        Ron make sure to point out he sometimes plays in public places.  In sunlight even!  Clearly, part of his agenda is to move this beyond sub-culture round up the wagons status.  And yet, as noted in my points above, there's still the a) creation of a unique world, b) rules of world and logic and story (including premise issues) to focus on, c) to create a little community that d) in turn creates a "deep, intricate, rich, and intellectually and emotionally satisfying" story [not "world" as for Sim, but "story."]
        Ron plays in sunlight?  Weird.  Don't gamers melt in sunlight?  Sorry.

        You're taking my argument a little too strongly.  I'm not saying that gaming produces and supports subculture necessarily.  I think there's no question that it does so in fact, quite a lot, and that this requires some explanation and consideration.  I assume you'd agree on that one?

        The other thing is that I think, based on that distinction I just made, that Nar gaming is less intrinsically oriented toward that sort of behavior.  It's just a lot easier to get out of it, because it's not particularly useful to the way Nar gaming works.  It isn't strictly speaking necessary to Sim either, but it is very useful.  And so I think that Sim in particular does lend itself toward subculture-identification, and vice-versa.

        Does that help?

        P.S. Stop pre-defending yourself about "an honest question."  I'm really not that thin-skinned!


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 07, 2004, 08:59:27 PM
        Hey Chris,

        Did you edit anything except the last few lines?  I responded only to the initial version.  Don't reply if you only edited the last few lines, OK?


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Piers on December 08, 2004, 08:12:24 AM
        To go back to where this thread started, we can connect this up with literary concerns to do with texts and the process of writing.  In other words this is not so much moving forward as going back and rounding up the stragglers.  

        Where I think people were having difficulty with connecting ideas of roleplaying with the production of literary texts is in terms of the relation between the text produced and the act of producing it--that is to say the act of writing.  While the product of role-playing games has relatively little to do with the actual textual product of writing--ie novels and short stories--I see a far closer relationship between the act of writing and the act of role-playing.

        I need to qualify that statement carefully, because obviously they do not operate in anything like the same way.  Rather writing and its finished product and role-playing and the stories it creates (and also myth-making and myths) are alike in the similar sorts of relationship they produce between the act of making and the product of the act.

        Post-modern fiction often deals with this relationship by reflexively referring to the act of its own creation, but this is an act of representation in and of itself (ie the self-referential parts of such texts are themselves representations of acts of reflexivity that may or may not be going on, rather than the acts themselves).  A great example of this in action is an essay by Jerome McGann called "The Textual Condition" (in the book of the same name, or as I have it in David Lodge's _Modern Criticism and Theory_ 2nd ed.), which is basically an account of the process of writing the essay that you are in the process of reading.  

        The point is that the seemingly smooth surface of the text (or even the apparently broken surface of post-modern texts) is the product of a very different process from the text itself.  Similarly, in role-playing the 'pure story' produced by gaming (such as we might re-tell to others) is different from the process of creating it.  And as Chriis suggests, we can play with and enjoy both levels of this experience simultaneously--both the 'story' and the story-making process--indeed we have to, because we experience both at the same time.

        It is in this context that I want to connect up with Chris' argument about the effects of bricolage, structuarlism and simulationism, and in particular the differentiation between a (relatively controllable) myth-making system, and an uncontrollable world.  I want to suggest that our role-playing systems do something similar--that on one hand we have ordered, manipulable systems (this is to a certain extent why gamism can work) and we also have the story-output of those systems which is to a certain extent uncontrolled and uncontrollable.  At the end, we match this output--the text, the story--with a variety of criteria for the sort of story we were trying to make, and we match the experience of creating it with another set of criteria. I think this has an obvious relationship with the way in which Chris suggests that Sim is like structuralism in that it moves from things to structures, and that by contrast Gamism and Narrativism move from structures to things.

        Piers


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Mark Woodhouse on December 08, 2004, 09:56:19 AM
        I'm going to take this off into my own academic territory here. What we're looking at is interestingly similar to one of the other great myth-management systems of our experience: religion.

        Quote from: clehrich
        Consider Narrativism for a second.  The bricolage procedure here is pre-constrained by an aesthetic criterion of structure: the manipulation of mythemes (gamemes?) must produce a particular kind of structure, which is any structure that is constitutive of Story.  Story is going to be defined locally, in reference to the kind of Story we want to tell and the sort of Premise and so forth we have in mind.  But not every sort of structure will serve this end, because we in a sense already have a larger structure into which the substructures must fit, and that larger structure is called Story.


        The target is a particular kind of experiential result, and the particulars of the use of myth-components or ritual are subsumed to the goal of the product. This has analogs to the one of the major categories of religious praxis... mysticism. Indeed, System Does Matter ties in - one of the hallmarks of mystical traditions is the variety of psychosocial "technologies" such as music, dance, meditation, and the use of psychoactives. Likewise, the emphasis on finely crafted System tools in Narrativist play may be seen as an attempt to strip the gaming process down to its essentials, to target it on the goal it is trying for. Just as the mystic attempts to strip religious experience of the "non-essentials" in order to facilitate access to direct experience of the numinous, the Narrativist attempts to strip the game of all but that which serves Premise.

        Quote from: clehrich
        I'm not exactly sure how Gamism works in this context; any suggestions would be very welcome.


        I'm not entirely comfy here either, but my extended analogy suggests that Gamism is much like magic. An attempt to assert control over the spiritual world (or the SIS) through the use of imputed meaning (rules).

        Quote from: clehrich
        ...ritualization imputes an ontological certainty to what it demarcates.  The Simulationist's world becomes real.
        ...
        But what I do mean is that the Simulationist provides himself with two universes, both real, both valid.  One is meaningful in an intellectually and emotionally satisfying sense, and is controllable to some degree through the ongoing process of bricolage; like the Hidatsa hunter, the Simulationist can perform an action, however mundane or peculiar, and have it "work" within a coherent system of meaning.  And the Simulationist has the challenge and excitement of making that work, which is much the same attractive quality that makes myth valuable to actual myth-making peoples.


        And here we have the more normal form of religious experience: the creation of a sacred space outside the world in which mythic realities are asserted - often in direct opposition to the profane reality of everyday life. Ritual and scripture are particularly important tools in this arena, more so than they are for the other forms of religious praxis.

        I'm not sure if there's much practical good from extending the analysis in this direction... I wouldn't care to lean too heavily on it without a lot more thought than I really have the time for at this point. I'll see if I can put something more thorough and rigorous together over the holidays.

        Mark


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 08, 2004, 12:27:40 PM
        Mark,

        Have you read my article on ritual?  (Forge Articles section)  I go into some of that territory, albeit only relatively broadly and not particularly taking on GNS sorts of categorical issues.

        I think what you're proposing about mysticism makes some sense, but I'd need to be convinced that Nar is an experiential priority.  To me the formulation of story is something quite different from the achievement of mystical experience, but I may be misunderstanding or taking the analogy too far.

        Chris


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Mark Woodhouse on December 08, 2004, 01:22:53 PM
        Chris,

        Yes, I've read your article, although not in the immediate past. A re-read is on my list before I delve into this much more. (I feel like I should go back and dig into L-S again (and maybe Berger), too, but then it would be 2008 by the time I got back).

        My notion on Nar=Mysticism leans more heavily on the Now in Story Now than the Story, if that makes any sense. The Nar player wants the meat, the Premise, the direct access to the juice. Aggressive scene-framing. Stripped mechanics. Kickers & Bangs. All techniques that can work in any mode, but they're lifeblood to Narr play, because they get you straight to the Story.

        Mark


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 08, 2004, 01:58:08 PM
        Quote from: Mark Woodhouse
        Yes, I've read your article, although not in the immediate past. A re-read is on my list before I delve into this much more. (I feel like I should go back and dig into L-S again (and maybe Berger), too, but then it would be 2008 by the time I got back).
        Hmm.  I'll have to re-read The Sacred Canopy myself; I hadn't thought of that but it does indeed make sense here.
        Quote
        My notion on Nar=Mysticism leans more heavily on the Now in Story Now than the Story, if that makes any sense. The Nar player wants the meat, the Premise, the direct access to the juice. Aggressive scene-framing. Stripped mechanics. Kickers & Bangs. All techniques that can work in any mode, but they're lifeblood to Narr play, because they get you straight to the Story.
        I'll have to think about that.  I see what you're saying, but somehow it sounds odd to me.  I may just need to turn it over in my head for a while, though.

        I presume we're talking about mystical (ritual) techniques, more than the theological underpinnings, yes?


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Mark Woodhouse on December 09, 2004, 07:35:16 AM
        Quote from: clehrich
        I presume we're talking about mystical (ritual) techniques, more than the theological underpinnings, yes?


        As I'm sure you've probably deduced by now, I think the praxis is all that matters. I was trying to explain this conversation to someone yesterday, and she asked me to define what a mystic was. I said something to the effect of "the mystic is to the world of symbols what a field researcher is to the world of concrete things. They go out into it and see what's there, then try to make sense of it."

        It's all about the techniques.

        Best,

        Mark


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Mike Holmes on December 10, 2004, 10:56:27 AM
        I think Mark has the right of it. But, then, I think that Ron had the right of all of this way, way back.

        That is, I think that any reading of Ron as saying that narrativism is after a literary, or worse, textual, content is completely incorrect. In fact he explicitly rejects that. Yes, he starts with Egri, but then alters him dramatically precisely because RPGs are not literature. He drops "Story" too. Note that he's repeatedly said that "story now" has little to nothing to do with "story" as defined here or elsewhere.

        Narrativism is about making a certain kind of decision. I think it's interesting that Ron has had trouble getting the definion of the qualities of that sort of decision out. But generally it's something like a decision that creates theme by answering a morally or ethically or emotionally interesting question.

        Kinda like myths do. No?

        What I think you've discovered here, Mr. Lehrich, is precisely the correct definition of what narrativism seeks, which is creation of myth. From all that I've read in this thread it sound so correct that I'm surprised it took me to note it.

        Is it "Myth" per se, or per Levi-Strauss? I'm no expert. But it's something with such a similar goal that I can't imagine a reason to create a dichotomy.

        Mike


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 10, 2004, 11:36:51 AM
        Quote from: Mike Holmes
        Narrativism is about making a certain kind of decision. I think it's interesting that Ron has had trouble getting the definion of the qualities of that sort of decision out. But generally it's something like a decision that creates theme by answering a morally or ethically or emotionally interesting question.

        Kinda like myths do. No?
        No.  Myth is not like this at all.  That's precisely my point, Mike.  I'm entirely in agreement with you that what Ron is talking about in reference to Narrativism isn't text; I do think that the analogy is worth making and instructive, because I think that Narrativism seeks to formulate stories of a kind that are most usually found in texts, films, TV shows, and the like.  But Narrativism constructs them in a different medium, by its own methods.

        But my argument is that Simulationism has nothing to do with morally or ethically interesting questions or themes, and is not at all analogous, even loosely, to texts, films, etc.  It's a lot like myth, which equally has nothing to do with morally or ethically interesting questions.
        Quote
        What I think you've discovered here, Mr. Lehrich, is precisely the correct definition of what narrativism seeks, which is creation of myth. From all that I've read in this thread it sound so correct that I'm surprised it took me to note it.
        I disagree entirely.  Unless we are completely at odds in our sense of what "morally and ethically" means, I think this formulation wrongheaded.
        Quote
        Is it "Myth" per se, or per Levi-Strauss? I'm no expert. But it's something with such a similar goal that I can't imagine a reason to create a dichotomy.
        I don't understand the question.  That has nothing to do with my disagreement; I honestly don't get this.  Can you explain?

        I'm sorry, Mike, but I think you're caught up in a notion of myth that derives from a very narrow range of textually-formulated tales, notably the Greek myths as normally available to us, or to a lesser extent the Norse myths.  All of these appear to be strongly conditioned by what amounts to a literary history, and seem to have been reconstructed in a specifically moral and ethical form.  A wonderful example would be Aeschylus' tragedies, which clearly draw on prior mythical material to tell stories of a gripping moral nature.

        I think that Narrativism strives to tell stories of the same type, in broad terms, as those Aeschylus told.  Note that Aeschylus' Oresteia, for example, is composed in a textual form, but intended for dramatic performance.  The total range of literary form in this sense would thus include dramatic scripts, short stories, novels (a very late form), films, TV shows, radio plays, and so forth.  I do think the analogy to novels in particular is problematic, because of the in some sense self-referential nature of the novel from its initial formulation in the West, but apart from that it seems to me that what Narrativism seeks is to tell these sorts of stories Now, in process, through creative cooperation, in a medium not usually used for this sort of thing.  And I think it's completely successful in doing this.

        Simulationism, it seems to me, is not about stories at all, in any sort of dramatic or ethical or whatever sense.  It's about the manipulation of structure and symbol to construct a sense of order, classification, and totality in the formulated universe it renders.  Thus the focus on causality, rules, and consistency, as well as the potential emphasis on faithfulness to a particular set of source materials.  That description matches myth a great deal better than it does anything else, and I would go so far as to say that if myth-making is something intrinsic to people, and it does seem like something that all non-literate peoples do and to a lesser extent something that literate peoples grapple with, then Simulationist gaming is a late-modern way of grappling with this fundamental human process.


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Mike Holmes on December 10, 2004, 12:43:21 PM
        Chris, again, it's the point that when put to task that "morally and ethically and emotionally" didn't stand up. It became "that thing that Ron is talking about that he doesn't have a term for." Which I think is Myth per your definitions.

        Mike


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: TonyLB on December 10, 2004, 12:55:12 PM
        I (at least) envision what Ron's talking about as stories that can stand on their own, with individual meaning for the human condition.

        Whereas what Chris seems to be talking about are myths that often make no sense on their own, but take on vibrancy and life in the context of the myth-structure as a whole.

        Can you clarify where you think the similarities are?


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Mike Holmes on December 10, 2004, 01:20:03 PM
        See, when you look at narrativism in terms of decision making, what do you get? Do you get plot automatically? No. Do you get "Story" in any sense? No. You merely get these little bullets of "theme." Points of random meaningfulness.

        This very much matches my play. Yeah, sometimes the stories come to a good conclusion, but I think that's us putting our own expectations on top of the play. That is narrativism can be pushed into being something more "textual" seeming. But at it's core, it's really something entirely different.

        I ranted to somebody just yesterday that narrativism wasn't at all about narrative really. It's about player power in the act of creation, but we've never really known in creation of what, precisely. Every time I read Chris's definition of Myth, it seems that's precisely what's happening in my games.

        Well, not precisely. I'd put it this way, it's parallel to myth. As we used to say that there were parallels to story creation in narrativism, I'd now say that the parallels are to myth creation. I think that the extra level of self-reference is somehow key in the difference. I mean, what's the act of making a myth? You speak it, no? In RPGs we do the same thing, except we do so according to a set of rules that intend to create myth. Instead of a more reflexive act.

        So I guess I'd say that it's the RPG equivalent of creating Myth.

        As another argument, Chris, what's the "use" of Myth, socially (ala the thread from a month ago)? I think that the reasons for having myth will match the reasons for playing Narrativism pretty closely.

        Mike


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: ethan_greer on December 10, 2004, 01:29:40 PM
        My take is that all role-playing attempts to create myth, but the different CAs approach the creation of myth from entirely different angles.


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Mike Holmes on December 10, 2004, 01:59:22 PM
        But then you're using Myth locally like we used to use story, Ethan. Meaning that it loses a lot of usefulness as a term. In any case, I'd agree with Chris that gamism doesn't attempt to create myth (assuming he agrees with that).

        Mike


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 10, 2004, 05:17:52 PM
        Mike,

        You've completely lost me.  I don't get what you're saying.
        Quote from: Mike Holmes
        Chris, again, it's the point that when put to task that "morally and ethically and emotionally" didn't stand up. It became "that thing that Ron is talking about that he doesn't have a term for." Which I think is Myth per your definitions.
        Okay, but I think Ron does think that this moral/ethical/emotional dimension is central to Narrativist play.  Now, are you saying that Narrativism does not have this dimension?  Forget about story for the moment.  Is Nar play focused on this sort of thematic issue?  My understanding is that it is, and Sim isn't.  Since myth isn't either, I'm not seeing the link you're making.

        Quote from: TonyLB
        I (at least) envision what Ron's talking about as stories that can stand on their own, with individual meaning for the human condition.

        Whereas what Chris seems to be talking about are myths that often make no sense on their own, but take on vibrancy and life in the context of the myth-structure as a whole.
        I don't know that myths make no sense on their own, but they certainly don't appear to have any clear meaning seen from the outside, which I think is your point.  With a lot of cultural context, they do have meaning, but not at all in the way they might seem to -- for example, they don't commonly have any particular moral or allegorical meaning.

        Quote from: Mike
        See, when you look at narrativism in terms of decision making, what do you get? Do you get plot automatically? No. Do you get "Story" in any sense? No. You merely get these little bullets of "theme." Points of random meaningfulness.
        What ties these together?  Because that I think is the central question at stake here.
        Quote
        This very much matches my play. Yeah, sometimes the stories come to a good conclusion, but I think that's us putting our own expectations on top of the play. That is narrativism can be pushed into being something more "textual" seeming. But at it's core, it's really something entirely different.
        I tend to agree with you, but I'm not sure why this is particular to Narrativism.  It seems like gaming in general to me.
        Quote
        ....I'd put it this way, it's parallel to myth. As we used to say that there were parallels to story creation in narrativism, I'd now say that the parallels are to myth creation. I think that the extra level of self-reference is somehow key in the difference. I mean, what's the act of making a myth? You speak it, no? In RPGs we do the same thing, except we do so according to a set of rules that intend to create myth. Instead of a more reflexive act.
        I'm not sure what you mean by "reflexive."  Do you mean self-conscious and self-aware?  Or referential to the medium?  I do think that myth is both of those, probably a good deal more than is gaming as a rule, though certainly there's nothing stopping gaming from being hyper-conscious.
        Quote
        As another argument, Chris, what's the "use" of Myth, socially (ala the thread from a month ago)? I think that the reasons for having myth will match the reasons for playing Narrativism pretty closely.
        To classify and grip intellectually the objects of the contextual world, such that one confirms the social structure in which one lives by demonstrating that everything in the universe proves the certainty and ideal state of the social world.  Something like that, anyway.  I don't see how this is Nar; for Sim, I've argued that this is part of what makes it so supportive of subculture identification.

        Quote
        But then you're using Myth locally like we used to use story, Ethan. Meaning that it loses a lot of usefulness as a term. In any case, I'd agree with Chris that gamism doesn't attempt to create myth (assuming he agrees with that).
        I didn't say that about Gamism; I said that I didn't know how it worked.  I still don't.  My inclination is to say that all gaming plays off of myth-making as a baseline, but that both Gamism and Narrativism then impose higher-level constraints about the product or process.  Sim doesn't in the main bother with this.  Thus Sim is very similar to myth-making, Nar is similar but oriented toward a non-mythic genre or medium, and Gam is similar but oriented toward something I don't get at the moment.

        Clearly we're not communicating, because I'm not seeing where you're coming from.  Can you explain why Nar is myth more than is Sim?  Because I think if I could wrap my head around that part, I'd be better able to debate this.


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Christopher Kubasik on December 10, 2004, 05:34:13 PM
        Quote from: clehrich
        I'm sorry, Mike, but I think you're caught up in a notion of myth that derives from a very narrow range of textually-formulated tales, notably the Greek myths as normally available to us, or to a lesser extent the Norse myths.


        Chris,

        Mike may or may not be caught up in this.... But I certainly am.  Could you break down what you mean by myth?  

        I was sort of expecting the break down in the Myth article you were preparing... but, here we are, on page 5 and the subject is all around us like swamp water.

        I have my guess from the posts you've made so far.... But why guess?

        Whether or not your definition is the same definition I'm used to thinking of, we'll be spinning our wheels as long as we're using the word in completely different ways.  I'll even give you the word!  But tell me what it means to you.

        Cause here's what I'm stuck on:

        Quote from: clehrich
        To classify and grip intellectually the objects of the contextual world, such that one confirms the social structure in which one lives by demonstrating that everything in the universe proves the certainty and ideal state of the social world. Something like that, anyway.


        How does one know if things are "confirmed"?  How does one test the ideal state of the social world?  Are there examples of people doing things in myths that suppport or break against the social world?  Is there not choice in this?  Is this not Nar?

        And if not, are Myths -- as your defining them -- actually not stories at all, but simply models of how the world is supposed to work?  And the purpose of the myth is tell us how we fit in the world and do what the myth says, and that's it?

        And if that is what Myth is, what's all the Greek and Viking stuff called?

        Thanks.

        Christopher

        PS I don't know if the Greek and Viking thingees have moral agendas -- though they have moral issues.  That is, they bring up the difficulty of choices in life -- often, as far as I can tell, in no win situations.  But not being moralistic is not the same thing as not addressing moral issues.  This may or may not be something you'd agree with, but really, I'm having trouble teasing out where you're going with your distinctions here, so I thought I'd get it on the table clear and square.


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Michael Brazier on December 10, 2004, 06:39:19 PM
        Quote from: clehrich
        Simulationism, it seems to me, is not about stories at all, in any sort of dramatic or ethical or whatever sense.  It's about the manipulation of structure and symbol to construct a sense of order, classification, and totality in the formulated universe it renders.  Thus the focus on causality, rules, and consistency, as well as the potential emphasis on faithfulness to a particular set of source materials.  That description matches myth a great deal better than it does anything else,


        This is where I have difficulty.  As you describe it (and, I must suppose, as Levi-Strauss defined it) myth is not an artform, it's a form of inquiry; the purpose of telling a myth is to explain some aspect of the real world.  Myth in this sense is a close kin to philosophy and (in modern times) science -- and bears no resemblance to literature, drama, or any other art.  The act of formulating, or constructing, a universe out of structures and symbols (that is, making a fiction) is no part of myth at all.

        But that act is the essence of role-playing -- every group of role-players, during a session of play, is making a fiction together.  Moreover, in Simulationist play the making of the fiction is the focus, the reason why the players are there.  Sim players aren't trying to discover structures in the real world.  They are creating a structure, not attempting inquiry.  It is Narrativist play in which the players are engaged in an inquiry; in Nar play the fiction is a tool, used to expose and examine a difficult question from the real world.  Hence, if Levi-Strauss is right about myths, and mythmaking is an inquiry, then no creative agenda is much like myth; but Narrativism comes closer to it than the others, for only in that agenda are the players inquiring into anything.

        The distinction between Sim and Nar play is not, by the way, confined to roleplaying.  There are works of literature and drama, and treasured works at that, that make no attempt at all to "address Premise", and have no deep moral significance.  Examples that come to mind are Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, Buster Keaton's The General, and the whole ouevre of the Marx Brothers.  The pleasure in watching these works comes from their internal structure, not from their relevance to difficult moral problems -- the same desire Simulationist play tries to satisfy.  (And do these works resemble myths?  Surely not.)


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 10, 2004, 08:51:18 PM
        Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
        Quote from: clehrich
        I'm sorry, Mike, but I think you're caught up in a notion of myth that derives from a very narrow range of textually-formulated tales, notably the Greek myths as normally available to us, or to a lesser extent the Norse myths.


        Chris,

        Mike may or may not be caught up in this.... But I certainly am.  Could you break down what you mean by myth?  

        I was sort of expecting the break down in the Myth article you were preparing... but, here we are, on page 5 and the subject is all around us like swamp water.

        I have my guess from the posts you've made so far.... But why guess?
        Well, I'd go back to the long post on page 2, where I gave an example of a myth from the Bororo.  This thing has no clear moral point or even much of a plot; it appears to be a rambling account of some adventures of a culture-hero who incidentally happens to have raped his mother and murdered his father -- but that doesn't seem to matter very much.

        The classical myths with which you're familiar, the Greek myths and such, clearly arise in response to myths of some sort, and there have been any number of attempts to work out what they were, with limited success.  Some archaeological material has revealed a surprising amount, but mostly this oral form of art is just lost to us.

        Okay, so there were a number of classic approaches to myth, back in the day.

        Euhemerism: Basically the notion is that you had historical events of some sort, then you took the characters and made them into gods and heroes to make it all sort of larger than life.  There are a certain number of cases in which this seems sort of accurate, but not many.

        Moral Allegory: Here the notion is strictly literary.  The idea is that myths tell us how to live our lives, by projecting moral quandaries onto the gods.  Unfortunately, this seems to imply that, for example, we ought to be rather loose about our sexual mores, given the way the gods tend to hop from bed to bed and so on.

        Explanation: The idea is that myths tell us where things came from and so on, why things are the way they are.  So long as you throw away most myths, that's sort of fine, but we have to wonder why people are so dim as to think that these myths are sane explanations.  I mean, lightning happens because a man in the sky throws it?  C'mon.

        Practical Paradigm: This is basically Malinowski's theory.  The idea is that myths encapsulate, in coded form, a number of practical precepts for social and especially what he called "scientific" life.  For example, myths tell us how to plant crops, which is handy as a way of remembering how to do this.  Fine, but why all the other stuff?  Why make it all so complicated?

        Ontological Paradigm: This is Eliade.  Basically he argues that myths construct a way of being, a way of performing, that connects our daily activities to the gods.  This allows our most trivial actions to have deep meaning; instead of just planting rice and breaking our backs, we are both doing what the gods want and also we are ourselves the gods.

        Now all of these theories sort of work okay, so long as you take things like Greek myth as primary and you assume that the myths told by nonliterate peoples are aberrant and weird.  So for example, Eliade tells us all about the Achilpa carting around this pole that is the center of their universe, and when it breaks they lie down and die.  Yes, but that's episode 11 or something of about 50, and there's nothing in the myths as recorded that indicates that this is an especially important incident.

        What Levi-Strauss argued, and I do agree with him, is that we're going about this all wrong.  We have to start with the myths of nonliterate peoples for whom myth is an ordinary part of life, and assume that the extremely problematic provenance of the Greek and so on myths makes them secondary from an analytical perspective.  So what happens?

        Well, we find that American native myths are hideously complicated, and that there doesn't appear to be any surface reason for this.  There doesn't appear to be any consistent sense of story, moral, allegory, event, or anything like that.

        Then suddenly it gets worse.

        You get two Bororo, let's say, who tell what they swear up and down is "the same myth."  They are insistent that the two tellings are identical, down to the last detail.  But the ethnographer looks at these things and sees little correlation at all.  In one case we have, let's say, rotting lizards.  In another, somebody's grandmother blows up because she's afraid to fart.  In another, a glutton eats all the birds in the world.  What the hell?

        So this puts us in a bind.  Either (a) the natives are basically rather stupid, and don't know that there is a difference between a rotting lizard and an exploding grandmother, or (b) they mean something quite different than we think they mean.  And Levi-Strauss asserts that pretty much all the previous methods have assumed (a), though they may not have admitted that this was what they were doing, by blurring away differences and fine details and transmuting the myths into moral fables or whatever.  His method takes (b) as a basic assumption, and goes from there.  So he has to work out some way in which a rotting lizard and an exploding grandmother can be the same thing.

        Put it like this.  Suppose we have two very successful gaming sessions in which the PCs went on a dungeon-crawl.  In both cases, everyone has fun and is satisfied.  In one case, half the PCs died during lavish and complicated fights; in the other, all the PCs survived and spent all their time testing traps and not getting into fights they could possibly avoid.  In one case, the PCs were sort of Paladin-style characters with very strong preset behaviors; in the other, they were all neutral-good types with a strong sense of self-preservation and teamwork, but no great moral perspective.  And say both were run with AD&D, applied exactly rigidly according to the rules, with no fudging or whatever.  I'm saying that from one perspective, these sessions are basically the same thing.  And that is roughly the sense in which the farting grandmother and the rotting lizards are the same.
        Quote
        Quote from: clehrich
        To classify and grip intellectually the objects of the contextual world, such that one confirms the social structure in which one lives by demonstrating that everything in the universe proves the certainty and ideal state of the social world. Something like that, anyway.
        How does one know if things are "confirmed"?  How does one test the ideal state of the social world?  Are there examples of people doing things in myths that suppport or break against the social world?  Is there not choice in this?  Is this not Nar?
        One knows they are "confirmed" because there is a clear way to handle them within the system.  That proves that the system is sufficient.

        Suppose we have a zillion complicated myths that make perfect "sense" in this strange classificatory way.  Now one day you, a white guy, arrive and hand us an exciting new technology.  What are we going to do?  You don't have a place in the system.  Can we take your gift?  What is it worth?  Okay, so we sit down and tell myths, and by the end we have a classification for you, and know how to handle your gifts.

        As an example, take the famous Ceramese myth of Hainuwele.  She is born from a coconut in the classic fashion of gods of her general type.  Then she excretes luxury goods, mostly from her butt.  The natives decide to kill her, and then they plant her body.  From the pieces grow yams and other tubers.  (This is a pared-down version.)

        Now if you go hunting on line, you'll find all sorts of things that say this is like Prometheus and Pandora: the point is the moral allegory, the question of what to do with dangerous gifts, the agony of free wealth, etc.  But Jonathan Z. Smith has pretty thoroughly demonstrated that this is something of a misreading.  See, those luxury goods are very clearly Dutch trade goods, and this is within the Dutch East Indies region.  So presumably the question for the natives is not dangerous gifts in general, but more specifically, "What the hell do we do about trade goods?"  

        You see, the Ceramese, like lots of their neighbors, are very caught up in complicated exchange relations.  Basically if I store up lots of stuff, I'm a miser and nobody likes me; I'm not rich, but an asshole.  So what I do when I do have a lot of stuff is I throw a big party and give it away.  This means that I'm a wonderful person and everyone likes and respects me.  So the way to get wealth and power, in effect, is to give away wealth.  Then everyone owes me.  Kind of like the Godfather, as I like to explain to my students: I give you whatever you want, because I have lots and am very generous, and someday, and this day may never come, I may ask you a favor....  Like that.

        Okay, so here come the Dutch with all these trade goods -- Chinese porcelain and so on -- and they hand it over and leave.  Okay, so they have a lot of stuff, clearly, but how are we supposed to reciprocate?  We may respect them and all, but we don't know whether they are over-rich assholes or people to be respected deeply.  And we don't know what these goods are or are worth, because we don't make them here.  So what do we do?

        One solution is the cargo-cult, but Hainuwele is another.  Through myth, we think it through, and we come to a solution.  The gifts are shit (thus excreted), and not valuable, so we don't owe the Dutch anything.  And if we use the gifts for other purposes (such as trading with our neighbors), we can make them into yams (thus the planting of the body and its turning into yams) which do have value, therefore getting something for nothing.  The trick is thus to transform shit into food, and in order to do that we have to refuse direct relations with the shit-givers.

        This is myth.  Does this have a moral purpose?  Well, sort of, I suppose, but the moral is not what it appears to be at all.  If there is a moral, it's "pay no attention to what the Dutch give you, and use it to buy good stuff from our neighbors; don't hoard it, because it's complete shit, and instead sell it to any neighbors too stupid to recognize that it's shit."  Nice moral!

        From a structural perspective, the point of the myth is to classify the Dutch and their goods and their giving.  The Dutch are like a particular kind of god we know all about.  Their goods are like shit, which we also know all about, and their giving is like taking a crap.  Gotcha.  See?  Our system doesn't need to change one whit, because we've just proven that it is entirely sufficient to handle something new -- because suddenly it isn't new at all, but the same old thing.
        Quote
        And if not, are Myths -- as your defining them -- actually not stories at all, but simply models of how the world is supposed to work?  And the purpose of the myth is tell us how we fit in the world and do what the myth says, and that's it?
        Er, what do you mean "that's it"?  Setting aside the "do what the myth says," which has such a loose relevance here that it's dangerous to hang on to, the rest is basically: "The point of myth is to meditate on life, the universe, and everything, and come to intellectually and emotionally satisfying answers that our whole people can feel good about."  That's pretty big.

        Quote
        And if that is what Myth is, what's all the Greek and Viking stuff called?
        Oh, you can call that myth if you like.  Just be careful.  I like to make a rough distinction between "pure" myth and "literary" myth, but don't read anything whatsoever into that, because it's a rough-and-ready distinction that doesn't really work except for explaining this exact problem in general terms.  It's a heuristic division, not a precise one.

        See, the thing is that what seems to happen is that you get the rise of a literary culture in these places.  

        In Greece, you get writing coming in from the Egyptians and Phoenecians and Minoans and such; the Greeks take some of that and sort of build their own.  And over time, with the rise of Hellenic culture, they develop literary arts.  And so, naturally, they write down a whole bunch of mythic material that's getting lost, because they love it so, and they tell stories with it in the exciting new ways that are possible now that we have writing.  See, writing allows you to be very detailed about stories in a way you can't be orally; you can make actual words matter, and play with double meanings and intricate poetic devices, and all that cool stuff.  Look at the difference between Aeschylus and the Bororo myth, for example.  And with that kind of intricacy, we get the rise of high dramatic forms as well, such as tragedy.  And so it goes from there.  But what we, modern people, now have from the Greeks is a bunch of myths reworked into various kinds of literary forms.  All of which makes for extraordinary tragedy and such, but it's quite far from what the old oral myths must have been.

        With the Norse, you've got writing coming in from the Christians.  Now the Norse take to this like a fish to water, in terms of tale-telling anyway, because their myths were already about words: runes and such.  And so the sagas and eddas are weirdly self-conscious of their medium in a way that's very unusual in an early literary form.  So Snorri and others essentially take all that great mythic material they love and whirl it around in this exciting new format, and produce fantastic things.  On the other hand, of course, all we have now are these literary versions, which are fantastic works of art in their own right -- but they're again rather far from what the original myths would have been like.

        In case you're thinking, "Well, how do you know what the myths were like?" I don't.  But what I do know is what myth looks like among nonliterate peoples who tell these things on a regular basis as an ordinary part of their lives.  And they don't look much like Greek or Norse myths.  In addition, with a certain amount of North American native myths, we find a process of concretization and formalization going on over the last century or so -- precisely in response, it seems, to writing.

        Poor old Plato.  He was right, you see.  Writing isn't memory, but a dangerous poison for it.  (Phaedrus)  And while writing does allow us to do fantastic, amazing artistic things that you can't do orally, it does slowly kill off the oral forms.

        Which is why Nar to me is sort of like tragedy and saga.  And Sim is trying to be myth, in the "pure" sense -- but it will never really succeed because we do live in a textual world, and we cannot get out of that now.

        That help?
        Quote
        PS I don't know if the Greek and Viking thingees have moral agendas -- though they have moral issues.  That is, they bring up the difficulty of choices in life -- often, as far as I can tell, in no win situations.  But not being moralistic is not the same thing as not addressing moral issues.  This may or may not be something you'd agree with, but really, I'm having trouble teasing out where you're going with your distinctions here, so I thought I'd get it on the table clear and square.
        On this one, I'm with Ron.  This is Narrativism.  Moral premise and all that.  You won't see a whole lot of this in "pure" myth, i.e. myth told among nonliterate people who tell a lot of myths.


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 10, 2004, 08:59:50 PM
        Quote from: Michael Brazier
        This is where I have difficulty.  As you describe it (and, I must suppose, as Levi-Strauss defined it) myth is not an artform, it's a form of inquiry; the purpose of telling a myth is to explain some aspect of the real world.  Myth in this sense is a close kin to philosophy and (in modern times) science -- and bears no resemblance to literature, drama, or any other art.  The act of formulating, or constructing, a universe out of structures and symbols (that is, making a fiction) is no part of myth at all.
        Levi-Strauss would insist that the division between art and investigation/philosophy/science is a modern one, and it doesn't apply to myth.  Myth is both, simultaneously.  That's why myth-tellers have to evaluate myths on aesthetic terms, not practical ones.  I'd say that the division you're talking about is exactly why myth seems so alien to us: we think these things shouldn't be the same.
        Quote
        But that act is the essence of role-playing -- every group of role-players, during a session of play, is making a fiction together.  Moreover, in Simulationist play the making of the fiction is the focus, the reason why the players are there.  Sim players aren't trying to discover structures in the real world.  They are creating a structure, not attempting inquiry.  It is Narrativist play in which the players are engaged in an inquiry; in Nar play the fiction is a tool, used to expose and examine a difficult question from the real world.  Hence, if Levi-Strauss is right about myths, and mythmaking is an inquiry, then no creative agenda is much like myth; but Narrativism comes closer to it than the others, for only in that agenda are the players inquiring into anything.
        See, I don't agree with you.  I think that Sim is precisely about examining and investigating a world -- just not the real world.  It's about confirming, exploring, and evaluating that world, making it all hang together in an aesthetically and intellectually satisfying way.
        Quote
        The distinction between Sim and Nar play is not, by the way, confined to roleplaying.  There are works of literature and drama, and treasured works at that, that make no attempt at all to "address Premise", and have no deep moral significance.  Examples that come to mind are Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, Buster Keaton's The General, and the whole ouevre of the Marx Brothers.  The pleasure in watching these works comes from their internal structure, not from their relevance to difficult moral problems -- the same desire Simulationist play tries to satisfy.  (And do these works resemble myths?  Surely not.)
        The absence of premise is not the presence of myth.  The Importance of Being Earnest is an excellent example of a work of art produced by a guy exceedingly conscious of the modern division between art and inquiry: "art for art's sake."  This is very much a modern conception, and it became a rallying cry for the decadents -- such as Wilde.  He's trying to create the extreme opposite of myth, if we put something like tragedy or whatever in between.  Myth is basically inquiry and/as art.  Tragedy is art that inquires in a limited sense, because it inquires about the human moral situation, where myth inquires about everything, such as the structure of the universe.  Wilde's work is about art that's art which is about art and produces art and means art.  It's completely divorced from utility; as he notes at the opening of Dorian Gray, "All art is quite useless."


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Christopher Kubasik on December 10, 2004, 09:16:10 PM
        Chris,

        Thanks so much for that amazing reply.

        Done and done.

        And now, an apology.  That post on page 2 you mentioned.  I somehow MISSSED it.  I really haven no idea how. It's as big as the fucking Pacific Ocean.  Yet, I did.

        But, by missing it and being all confused, I got the new big post... and now I'm down with you.

        Thanks again.

        Christopher


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 10, 2004, 10:35:12 PM
        Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
        And now, an apology.  That post on page 2 you mentioned.  I somehow MISSSED it.  I really haven no idea how. It's as big as the fucking Pacific Ocean.  Yet, I did.
        Oh -- well that explains it!  :-)
        Quote
        But, by missing it and being all confused, I got the new big post... and now I'm down with you.
        Cool.

        Any thoughts on gamism?


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Michael Brazier on December 11, 2004, 01:34:31 AM
        Quote from: clehrich
        Levi-Strauss would insist that the division between art and investigation/philosophy/science is a modern one, and it doesn't apply to myth.  Myth is both, simultaneously.  That's why myth-tellers have to evaluate myths on aesthetic terms, not practical ones.


        If so, he's flat wrong -- I'm sorry to say it, but I must.  The myth of the Bororos you quoted is certainly a narrative (in the sense that it describes a sequence of events) but considered as art, judged aesthetically, it's a total failure.  I'm not thinking of the moral defects of the protagonist; the trouble is the formlessness of the narrative, as a narrative.  Judged practically, considered as an inquiry into the structures of the world, it may have merit; but what value it has must be practical, for it has none of any other sort.

        Quote from: clehrich
        The Importance of Being Earnest is an excellent example of a work of art produced by a guy exceedingly conscious of the modern division between art and inquiry: "art for art's sake."  This is very much a modern conception, and it became a rallying cry for the decadents -- such as Wilde.  He's trying to create the extreme opposite of myth, if we put something like tragedy or whatever in between.  Myth is basically inquiry and/as art.  Tragedy is art that inquires in a limited sense, because it inquires about the human moral situation, where myth inquires about everything, such as the structure of the universe.  Wilde's work is about art that's art which is about art and produces art and means art.  It's completely divorced from utility; as he notes at the opening of Dorian Gray, "All art is quite useless."


        I agree that Wilde tried to create pure art, and that The Importance of Being Earnest is at the diametric opposite of myth -- that's why I brought it up.  I don't agree that myth is "inquiry and/as art".  Your account of myth is inquiry and/as narrative: an attempt to make sense of the world, in the medium of a recounted sequence of events.

        Quote from: clehrich
        And so, naturally, they write down a whole bunch of mythic material that's getting lost, because they love it so, and they tell stories with it in the exciting new ways that are possible now that we have writing. See, writing allows you to be very detailed about stories in a way you can't be orally; you can make actual words matter, and play with double meanings and intricate poetic devices, and all that cool stuff.


        Now, that kind of intricate detail is what Wilde, and I, and practically everybody I can think of, mean by art.  And it's that intricacy in the details which is the most obvious feature of Simulationism.  That's why I equated Sim play to Wilde's drama: "art for art's sake" is Sim's basic principle.  The agenda of Sim (the integrity and elaboration of an imaginary world) is as far removed from the agenda of myth as any endeavor can be.  

        (I do wonder whether Levi-Strauss, or anyone of his school, has analyzed the Kalevala -- which was, after all, an epic poem created from the oral tradition of the Finns, in modern times.  Could Levi-Strauss have compared the Kalevala with the Finnish myths out of which it was made?)


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: Ian Charvill on December 11, 2004, 07:49:38 AM
        Quote from: Michael Brazier
        Quote from: clehrich
        Levi-Strauss would insist that the division between art and investigation/philosophy/science is a modern one, and it doesn't apply to myth.  Myth is both, simultaneously.  That's why myth-tellers have to evaluate myths on aesthetic terms, not practical ones.


        If so, he's flat wrong -- I'm sorry to say it, but I must.  The myth of the Bororos you quoted is certainly a narrative (in the sense that it describes a sequence of events) but considered as art, judged aesthetically, it's a total failure.  I'm not thinking of the moral defects of the protagonist; the trouble is the formlessness of the narrative, as a narrative.  Judged practically, considered as an inquiry into the structures of the world, it may have merit; but what value it has must be practical, for it has none of any other sort.


        Michael

        Keep in mind two things here:

        Chris is writing in English, Levi Strauss was writing in French, the Bororos were speaking in Boe Wadáru.  That assumes a French anthropologist with the Bororos in Brazil.  You might have to add translated from Boe Wadáru into Portuguese, then into French, then into English.  You have to take into account that several people along the translation chain had ethnographical rather than artistic priorities.

        [For example, I'm guessing that the bear/wolverine confusion is an artefact of translation]

        The second thing is, especially within an anthropological framework, basing an argument on western judgements of indiginous arts may not valid in any case.  If the Bororos like that kind of art...

        All the best,
        Ian


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 11, 2004, 11:49:32 AM
        Quote from: Michael Brazier
        Quote from: clehrich
        Levi-Strauss would insist that the division between art and investigation/philosophy/science is a modern one, and it doesn't apply to myth.  Myth is both, simultaneously.  That's why myth-tellers have to evaluate myths on aesthetic terms, not practical ones.
        If so, he's flat wrong -- I'm sorry to say it, but I must.  The myth of the Bororos you quoted is certainly a narrative (in the sense that it describes a sequence of events) but considered as art, judged aesthetically, it's a total failure.  I'm not thinking of the moral defects of the protagonist; the trouble is the formlessness of the narrative, as a narrative.  Judged practically, considered as an inquiry into the structures of the world, it may have merit; but what value it has must be practical, for it has none of any other sort.
        If your aesthetic standards are about narrative, yes, it's a failure.  But that's precisely the point: the aesthetic criteria of myth have nothing to do with narrative.  They have to do with the adequation of form to content to exterior constraints.

        What I'm saying, to come back to RPGs, is that if you judge Nar play with reference to narrative conceptions, as in Story Now, you should be able to determine whether what you've generated is artistically worthwhile.  But to judge Sim play by those criteria is a category mistake.  Nevertheless, Sim play can be artistically valuable and worthwhile.  It's just that the criteria are quite different, and I'm suggesting that they are a lot more like the aesthetic criteria that inform myth-making.

        If you mean a more absolute statement, that art is necessarily like X and this myth isn't and so it absolutely isn't art, I think that's ethnocentric crap.  So I assume you don't mean this.
        Quote
        I agree that Wilde tried to create pure art, and that The Importance of Being Earnest is at the diametric opposite of myth -- that's why I brought it up.  I don't agree that myth is "inquiry and/as art".  Your account of myth is inquiry and/as narrative: an attempt to make sense of the world, in the medium of a recounted sequence of events.
        But what makes that not art?  Is it impossible for an art form to be inquiry in a narrative form?
        Quote
        Now, that kind of intricate detail is what Wilde, and I, and practically everybody I can think of, mean by art.  And it's that intricacy in the details which is the most obvious feature of Simulationism.  That's why I equated Sim play to Wilde's drama: "art for art's sake" is Sim's basic principle.  The agenda of Sim (the integrity and elaboration of an imaginary world) is as far removed from the agenda of myth as any endeavor can be.
        I don't agree about the nature of detail in Sim, in the sense that I don't see Sim mechanics and game-world design as equivalent to an intricate poetics and so forth.  I do agree that much of Sim would like to claim that it does what it does for no reason other than the activity itself, but I also think this is not actually true.  It's part of the ideology of Simulationist play.
        Quote
        (I do wonder whether Levi-Strauss, or anyone of his school, has analyzed the Kalevala -- which was, after all, an epic poem created from the oral tradition of the Finns, in modern times.  Could Levi-Strauss have compared the Kalevala with the Finnish myths out of which it was made?)
        Probably, yes.  I don't know that Levi-Strauss ever looked at it, but there were at one point a huge number of followers, and someone must surely have looked into Lonnrot's work.  

        Eero, got any suggestions for references?


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 11, 2004, 11:56:17 AM
        Quote from: Ian Charvill
        Chris is writing in English, Levi Strauss was writing in French, the Bororos were speaking in Boe Wadáru.  That assumes a French anthropologist with the Bororos in Brazil.  You might have to add translated from Boe Wadáru into Portuguese, then into French, then into English.  You have to take into account that several people along the translation chain had ethnographical rather than artistic priorities.
        This is true, although it's worth noting that Levi-Strauss does think that myth is fully translatable, because it's not the words and narrative structures that really make the thing work.  But that's a side issue, I think.
        Quote
        [For example, I'm guessing that the bear/wolverine confusion is an artefact of translation]
        Yes and no.  Levi-Strauss's point there is that it's an artefact of nobody taking the exact animal and its identification very seriously.  Everyone just assumes, "Okay, so then they were taught by the magic animals, who cares exactly what they were, and...."  Levi-Strauss's point on that score is that if we were telling a moral allegorical tale or something, it might well not matter exactly what the animal was: it's just a magic animal.  But since that's not what's happening here, since in fact it's a kind of meaningful riff on the nature of the animal itself, precise identification makes a great deal of difference.  He's saying that most ethnographers traditionally pre-determined what was and wasn't important, and they didn't bother recording other stuff because they'd already decided what mattered.  And they had done so by assuming that myths would be sort of like Aeschylus, only done by primitive savages not as intelligent or complicated as the Greeks.  Levi-Strauss is saying that this is something of a category mistake, and so our records are often fragmentary.  Don't know if that helps.
        Quote
        The second thing is, especially within an anthropological framework, basing an argument on western judgements of indiginous arts may not valid in any case.  If the Bororos like that kind of art...
        Yes yes yes.  Absolutely.  We're in no position to make absolute statements about what art "really is" except perhaps in a very abstract theoretical sense (cf. the various philosophies of art that get so hairy -- ask Jonathan Walton about this some time).  And without even knowing what the medium of myth is, or its point, we really cannot assess its aesthetic qualities except by imposing our own categories, which is about the worst methodological mistake one can make in the study of cultures.


        Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
        Post by: clehrich on December 11, 2004, 09:39:25 PM
        Hi,

        I'd like to recommend that those interested in this subject, of myth and structuralism and whatnot, check out the following book:
          Claude Levi-Strauss, Myth and Meaning (New York: Shocken, 1995 [1979]). (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0805210385/qid=1102829286/sr=1-5/ref=sr_1_5/002-8385008-5559254?v=glance&s=books)[/list:u]It'll run you about $8 new and about $6 used, not counting shipping; you can probably find it cheaper if you're willing to search a bit.

          The whole text by Levi-Strauss himself is about 50 pages.  It's a series of five semi-lectures delivered on Canadian radio in 1977.  They were given in English, and he says that forces him to say things very simply.  The book is exceedingly readable and approachable, and he explains very clearly what he's all about.  And when I say "readable and approachable," I don't mean "insanely difficult but not as nightmarish as some of his other books."  I genuinely mean that the book is readable.

          Myself, I find the text not terribly satisfying in the end, because he doesn't really explain the intricate theorizing that lies behind all this, but I think it cannot be superseded as an introduction to his thinking.  And the fact that each lecture is a little under 10 pages makes the whole thing readable right there: you can read a lecture, think about it, re-read it, and then go on to the next.  The whole book can be read in about an hour or so, but it'll take a little longer to really understand.

          From my perspective, having read Myth and Meaning, you should probably go on to Tristes Tropiques (get the Weightman translation) and The Savage Mind.  But if you're really mostly interested in art and the like, you should first read Look, Listen, Read, then the other two.  When you have read The Savage Mind and feel fairly confident about it, go on to The Raw and the Cooked, and take it from there.

          But assuming most folks won't want to do this, and I can't say as I blame you, you should definitely read Myth and Meaning.  I don't entirely agree with Wendy Doniger's introductory statements, but if you find them useful I don't think they're particularly inaccurate -- I just always disagree with a number of things Wendy does, stemming back to my grad school days in her classes.  But in any event, the book is wonderful, approachable, short, and cheap.  How can you miss?


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Michael Brazier on December 12, 2004, 12:44:19 AM
          Quote from: clehrich
          Quote from: Michael Brazier
          The myth of the Bororos you quoted is certainly a narrative (in the sense that it describes a sequence of events) but considered as art, judged aesthetically, it's a total failure.  
          If your aesthetic standards are about narrative, yes, it's a failure.  But that's precisely the point: the aesthetic criteria of myth have nothing to do with narrative.  They have to do with the adequation of form to content to exterior constraints.


          I suspect we are now in violent agreement.  Would you accept this as a paraphrase of your point: a myth is judged, in the society from which it came, not as an invention of the teller, but as a hypothesis about the real world; its value is its significance as a discovery, not its structure as an artifact?

          Quote from: clehrich
          Quote from: Michael Brazier
          I agree that Wilde tried to create pure art, and that The Importance of Being Earnest is at the diametric opposite of myth -- that's why I brought it up.  I don't agree that myth is "inquiry and/as art".  Your account of myth is inquiry and/as narrative: an attempt to make sense of the world, in the medium of a recounted sequence of events.
          But what makes that not art?  Is it impossible for an art form to be inquiry in a narrative form?


          If there is no invention, no work of construction, involved in an endeavor, its result cannot, I think, be called "art".  And in an inquiry, no matter what medium or form one uses, one wants as little invention as possible.  Any structure in the final product that is not an image of the thing one was examining, is a mistake.  So, if myth is an inquiry in narrative, it isn't art, because inquiry in general should not be art; it's a category error to judge inquiry as if it were art.  (And isn't that part of Levi-Strauss' point?  That ethnographers before him treated the myths they recorded as stories, that is as artworks, and thus misjudged them completely?)

          Quote from: clehrich
          Quote from: Michael Brazier
          That's why I equated Sim play to Wilde's drama: "art for art's sake" is Sim's basic principle.  The agenda of Sim (the integrity and elaboration of an imaginary world) is as far removed from the agenda of myth as any endeavor can be.
          I don't agree about the nature of detail in Sim, in the sense that I don't see Sim mechanics and game-world design as equivalent to an intricate poetics and so forth.  I do agree that much of Sim would like to claim that it does what it does for no reason other than the activity itself, but I also think this is not actually true.  It's part of the ideology of Simulationist play.


          That's a highly debatable proposition -- it means, after all, that Sim players are basically mistaken about what they think they're doing.  So why do you think this?

          Also, in what way -- other than the difference of medium -- does Sim differ from a play of Oscar Wilde?  Or a Marx Brothers film, another of my examples?


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Ian Charvill on December 12, 2004, 01:12:12 AM
          Quote from: Michael Brazier
          Quote from: clehrich
          Quote from: Michael Brazier
          The myth of the Bororos you quoted is certainly a narrative (in the sense that it describes a sequence of events) but considered as art, judged aesthetically, it's a total failure.  
          If your aesthetic standards are about narrative, yes, it's a failure.  But that's precisely the point: the aesthetic criteria of myth have nothing to do with narrative.  They have to do with the adequation of form to content to exterior constraints.


          I suspect we are now in violent agreement.  Would you accept this as a paraphrase of your point: a myth is judged, in the society from which it came, not as an invention of the teller, but as a hypothesis about the real world; its value is its significance as a discovery, not its structure as an artifact?


          Hmmm.  I'm kind of curious about Chris's response at this point, because if that's true I've been significantly misunderstanding things.  I thought the  whole point was that the value was derived from the structure -- that the value was in recognising, confirming and reinforcing the structural relationships between things.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 12, 2004, 10:17:20 AM
          Quote from: Michael Brazier
          Quote from: clehrich
          If your aesthetic standards are about narrative, yes, it's a failure.  But that's precisely the point: the aesthetic criteria of myth have nothing to do with narrative.  They have to do with the adequation of form to content to exterior constraints.
          I suspect we are now in violent agreement.  Would you accept this as a paraphrase of your point: a myth is judged, in the society from which it came, not as an invention of the teller, but as a hypothesis about the real world; its value is its significance as a discovery, not its structure as an artifact?
          Quote from: To which Ian
          Hmmm. I'm kind of curious about Chris's response at this point, because if that's true I've been significantly misunderstanding things. I thought the whole point was that the value was derived from the structure -- that the value was in recognising, confirming and reinforcing the structural relationships between things.
          Let me step sideways for just a second.  There's an old theory of aesthetics, which I first read about in F.W.J. Schelling but which I think is a good deal older, which says that aesthetic value is best judged by a precise adequation of form to content.  Slavoj Zizek has a funny example, where he points out that the alien in the film "Alien" is a sort of anti-aesthetic, thus horror: its content is outside its form (the exoskeleton, the ooze, the externalized second jaw, etc.).  But so you'd say, for example, that Michelangelo's Pieta is brilliant because it goes a little outside the boundaries of what is accepted for the form -- which matches the fact that for Michelangelo's culture, this isn't a death scene but rather the death scene.  Its content is larger than the form permits, and therefore he constructs the thing to break the traditional formal edges.

          Now Levi-Strauss would, I think, be interested in several dimensions of this example.  First, we have the whole issue of form and content.  Second, there is the point that the form is a culturally constructed structure, which is deployed in a semi-traditional way.  Third, the content is again culturally understood and known.  But what Michelangelo "discovers" is that the content is too great for the form, and by expressing it so he says something extraordinary about both the form and the content.  In a sense, Michelangelo has done nothing new here.  Everything that constitutes the pieta is completely traditional, and there are a zillion pietas around from that period.  But at the same time, he has perfected the possibilities of the genre in the same moment as he has shattered them.

          Myth too can be understood to have these aesthetic criteria of adequation of form to content.  The content, the "what is said" in the myth, at some level contributes to a totalizing sense of what the universe is and means.  The form, that in which this is said and negotiated, borrows its structures from the cultural world.  Thus aesthetic perfection in myth consists in the construction of the desired effect or message in such a way as to demonstrate the complete sufficiency of the cultural system to handle anything at all.

          For example, we've said that the Hidatsa could have chosen any polluting element to effect the meeting of spheres, sky and underground, and thus catch eagles.  But by choosing menstrual blood, they stack up an additional vast system of meanings, specifically a number of sexual meanings, in such a way that this also matches exactly what is desired -- i.e. eagles.  And this creates, out of completely traditional objects (wolverine, blood, rabbit, eagle, etc.) and traditional structures (how hunting works, how sex works, etc.) not only an effective system (it gets eagles) but also one that connects this desired effect to many other systems, confirming them in the process.

          But it should be borne in mind that I, like Levi-Strauss, accept also the possibility of aesthetic criteria in things like engineering.  There, the point is (for example) perfect efficiency at low cost, in a highly durable and preferably easily handled form.  We don't want a lot of extraneous systems; we want exactly and only what is needed to accomplish the desired end.  In computer coding, similarly, you want to achieve the desired ends while using as little memory as possible, preferably in a program that runs very fast.  So you avoid any sort of waste or excess.  For Levi-Strauss, this means that the engineer/programmer/etc. starts with principles and manipulates them to create the desired effect as efficiently and gracefully as possible.  A perfect marriage of form and function, as they say, would then include no excess or waste.

          The bricoleur myth-maker, however, doesn't work this way.  He starts with the objects he already has, not with principles.  And for him, it's the levels of interrelated meaning that are most interesting.  So it may well be that you can achieve the desired end with any of the following four objects -- blood, excrement, menstrual blood, toenail parings -- but the thing is that menstrual blood carries a hell of a lot more excess baggage, and if we can get that baggage to support the desired end, demonstrating a kind of subtle homology between eagle hunting and sex, then menstrual blood is a cooler thing to use.  In effect, the ideal mythic process would draw on absolutely everything in the entire known universe and set it all to work achieving one end.  That's impossible, of course, because the universe is just too damn big and these tribal people pay insanely close attention to very fine details, but that's a sort of hypothetical ideal.

          I talked about the aesthetics in that long post on page 2, using the music analogy.  The claim is that by doing this kind of work, the natives transform the entire universe around them into a vast symphony of perfectly harmonized elements.  It is true that doing this is a way of finding things out about the world, but as I say, the point isn't really primarily practical; practically speaking, the engineer's approach is probably more effective.  It is also true that this process can often produce practical results, because that much scrupulous attention to every detail of the world around one and that much tinkering with meaning and interrelation will most certainly generate practical knowledge.  But the real point is to make the objects of the world have cohesive meaning, to tie them all together into an intellectually and aesthetically satisfying web of interrelations, not unlike language or music.  Nature itself doesn't really work that way, or at least, it doesn't work that way at a macroscopic level.  By the procedures of mythical thought, however, we can make nature have meaning, and make that meaning fully human and satisfying.

          Quote
          Quote from: clehrich
          But what makes that not art?  Is it impossible for an art form to be inquiry in a narrative form?
          If there is no invention, no work of construction, involved in an endeavor, its result cannot, I think, be called "art".  And in an inquiry, no matter what medium or form one uses, one wants as little invention as possible.  Any structure in the final product that is not an image of the thing one was examining, is a mistake.  So, if myth is an inquiry in narrative, it isn't art, because inquiry in general should not be art; it's a category error to judge inquiry as if it were art.  (And isn't that part of Levi-Strauss' point?  That ethnographers before him treated the myths they recorded as stories, that is as artworks, and thus misjudged them completely?)
          As in the Michelangelo example, it really depends on what you mean by "invention"; he certainly invented something new, but not a single element in the Pieta is new.  As to inquiry, I don't know why we wouldn't want invention in any medium; surely the whole point of inquiry is to find something new?  If you mean that we don't want invention but rather discovery, I'm not at all convinced that these are completely at odds; Einstein's discovery of relativity certainly also had an element of invention, of creating something new.  As to Levi-Strauss's point, the problem is that ethnographers tended to judge myths by a set of aesthetic standards and criteria inappropriate to the form, because imposed from literature and the like.  Thus they missed what the form is and how it works, and were unable to see either the aesthetic or the intellectual criteria of value operative among the people who tell myth.

          Quote
          Quote from: clehrich
          I don't agree about the nature of detail in Sim, in the sense that I don't see Sim mechanics and game-world design as equivalent to an intricate poetics and so forth.  I do agree that much of Sim would like to claim that it does what it does for no reason other than the activity itself, but I also think this is not actually true.  It's part of the ideology of Simulationist play.
          That's a highly debatable proposition -- it means, after all, that Sim players are basically mistaken about what they think they're doing.  So why do you think this?
          Well, I'll point you back to the exchange Christopher K. and I had on pages 3-4 of this thread.  Yes, I do think that Sim players are, as a rule, basically mistaken about what they're doing.  As one example among many, there's what Ron calls the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast, which is a rhetoric and conception endemic to Sim games.  In many respects, I'd argue that this constant misconception about what Sim gaming is and is about prompted Ron's "GNS and Other Matters" in the first place: folks were thinking that they wanted to play Sim games, but they were unhappy with the games they played, and they constantly went around in circles seeking Sim games that would "get it right"; Ron's point, I think, was that maybe they didn't really want Sim at all, but rather Nar or Gam, and if they could come to clarity on what they wanted, they'd be happier gamers.  As a related point, I'd in that sense agree with Ron (writing in the "Right To Dream" essay) that "It's a hard realization: devoted Simulationist play is a fringe interest. It is not the baseline or core of role-playing...."

          Quote
          Also, in what way -- other than the difference of medium -- does Sim differ from a play of Oscar Wilde?  Or a Marx Brothers film, another of my examples?
          On Oscar Wilde, the primary difference it seems to me is that myth is not art for art's sake; it's art that is highly functional, and for which in fact some of the aesthetic standards are functional ones.  As to the Marx Brothers, I'm not quite sure what you mean to point to with the example; again, my sense is that those films are pretty much entertainment (art) for its own sake, whereas myths have a deep functional dimension.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: contracycle on December 13, 2004, 01:39:50 AM
          Quote
          The bricoleur myth-maker, however, doesn't work this way. He starts with the objects he already has, not with principles. And for him, it's the levels of interrelated meaning that are most interesting. So it may well be that you can achieve the desired end with any of the following four objects -- blood, excrement, menstrual blood, toenail parings -- but the thing is that menstrual blood carries a hell of a lot more excess baggage, and if we can get that baggage to support the desired end, demonstrating a kind of subtle homology between eagle hunting and sex, then menstrual blood is a cooler thing to use. In effect, the ideal mythic process would draw on absolutely everything in the entire known universe and set it all to work achieving one end. That's impossible, of course, because the universe is just too damn big and these tribal people pay insanely close attention to very fine details, but that's a sort of hypothetical ideal.


          Hmm, I'm not so sure I see the distinction as that large.  That is, a theory is good to the extent it explains not just this issue here, but also has implications that explain other isssues.  At the very least, it must not be contradicted by any existing known thing.  Surely the ideal scientific process would also "draw on absolutely everything in the entire known universe and set it all to work achieving one end."


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Rob Carriere on December 13, 2004, 04:48:32 AM
          Quote from: Michael Brazier
          If there is no invention, no work of construction, involved in an endeavor, its result cannot, I think, be called "art".  And in an inquiry, no matter what medium or form one uses, one wants as little invention as possible.  Any structure in the final product that is not an image of the thing one was examining, is a mistake.
          If I understand this right, you are presupposing that not only there exists an absolutely truth, but that we are capable of observing that truth with absolute objectivity. Without that supposition, invention in an inquiry is not mistake, but necessity.

          If you take the position that objective observation is impossible (or take the position that objective truth is impossible) then all inquiries as well as their results are needs be artifacts, and therefore potentially art.
          SR
          --


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Mike Holmes on December 13, 2004, 06:39:11 AM
          Quote
          Quote from: clehrich
          Mike,

          You've completely lost me.  I don't get what you're saying.
          Quote from: Mike Holmes
          Chris, again, it's the point that when put to task that "morally and ethically and emotionally" didn't stand up. It became "that thing that Ron is talking about that he doesn't have a term for." Which I think is Myth per your definitions.
          Okay, but I think Ron does think that this moral/ethical/emotional dimension is central to Narrativist play.  Now, are you saying that Narrativism does not have this dimension?  Forget about story for the moment.  Is Nar play focused on this sort of thematic issue?  My understanding is that it is, and Sim isn't.  Since myth isn't either, I'm not seeing the link you're making.


          If you look back at the descriptions that Ron gives of what it is that "Premise" means as locally defined, he starts by saying it's a moral question. And then people questioned that statemtent, and he backed off to "moral or ethical." People questioned that, and he backed off to "emotionally engaging." People said, "But gamism is emotionally engaging." In the narrativism essay, Ron neatly sidesteps the issue, by using the term theme, and saying simply that premises are the questions that when answered produce theme. But then he's altering the definition of theme from Egri to start as well. So that's almost tautological. In the essay it's about "value-judgements" or even more vaugely, a "point."

          So "Premise" at that point became like Obscenity is to the Supreme Court - something without a definition, but Ron knows it when he sees it. Yes, this really is the state of narrativism.

          To whit, instead of defining it, Ron has instead taken to relying on people making their own restatement of what premise is to understand it. That is, he's come to understand that his definitions do not suffice for most people, and that the only way that they can come to grips with this is for the individual to restate it in his or her own words. This is even in the essay.

          How like myth as defined by Levi-Straus is that?

          I've personally often used the term "meaning" as in "giving something a narrativism context means that the decision made will have meaning." Which doesn't suffice, because, of course, simulationism also has it's own sort of meaning, and what's more meaningful than the personal accomplishment of gamism? So it's a poor term, but it drives on something. That goal is what you said the goal of myth is above - to make sense of the world.

          Simulationism is concerned with the "otherworld" (to use Stafford's term) of the RPG to have a feeling of "realness" for the player. To the extent that this is a part of the ritual required to produce myth that "sticks" with the soul of the person playing, it could be a requirement, I don't know. But the "explanation" provided by the myth seems distinctly the narrativism part of play.

          Heck, if I wanted to get really out there, I've often said in an uncomfortably half-joking way, that I think that Greg Stafford believes that the scenarios he writes are actually heroquests that the players go on to forge myths. I think Greg has a unique insight into Levi-Strauss's concept of what myth is about, as I believe that he experiences it on a day-to-day basis as a practicing shaman (just talk to the man for ten minutes, and you'll know what I mean).

          The "self-referential" part of it is that the characters in Hero Quest go on heroquests to "change" myth. The interesting thing about this is that myth in the game exists in a state of no-time. So you aren't ever really changing myth, you're just becoming a part of it in your telling of the myth. I think this is just Greg's way of getting we, the modern western reader, to come to grips with what myth is. And some people don't get it, by the way; I've been confused by it quite a bit myself at times.

          I don't think that it's any mistake that I, Ron, and others associate Hero Quest with narrativism. Or that Hero Quest is about myth. Is it a perfect treatise? No, it's got huge gaping holes in it. But I do think that Myth is what narrativism is about.

          Mike


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: ethan_greer on December 13, 2004, 08:49:59 AM
          Quote from: Mike Holmes
          But then you're using Myth locally like we used to use story, Ethan. Meaning that it loses a lot of usefulness as a term.

          I think I see the point you're making, but I don't see it quite that way. I think what we're doing is searching for the "It" of role-playing - what it's about, what it produces, what it is. Story was proposed and fell short. Myth seems closer to the mark for me. So, yes, I'm using Myth locally - but that's sort of the point. It loses usefulness as a term to distinguish the different CA, but that's not what I'm going for. I could be misreading what you mean by "locally" though.

          For what it's worth, I think I agree with you that Nar play attempts to produce Myth. I also agree with Chris that Sim play attempts to produce Myth. (And that's a fascinating proposal about Sim, by the way.) I'm thinking about Gamism, but I'm not sure about it yet.

          Here's the thing: I think that role-playing (Nar and Sim, at least) is about producing Myth - I think Myth is the motivating factor that drives people to participate in the activity. But I think the Myth produced is like a terrarium. From inside (i.e. during play among the participants), the Myth is functional and meaningful. From outside, the Myth is observable but inaccessible and ultimately unable to fulfill any useful purpose to the observer. It's like trying to evaluate the Bororo myth.

          It's play-Myth. Or, better yet, a role-playing group effectively becomes a micro-culture in which (and only in which) the resulting Myth is functional and meaningful.

          In effect, in order to understand role-playing you have to do it. Only then are you tapped in to the Myth as part of that micro-culture.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: TonyLB on December 13, 2004, 08:54:27 AM
          I can see some serious support for that in the phenomenon of trying to explain a story from the game to someone who wasn't there, even another roleplayer who knows the genre and system very well.

          I always have this constant barrage of "Oh, but I have to explain this first!" moments as my literature-wired, analytic brain tries to chop off one little bit of the sticky, interconnected morass of the game.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 13, 2004, 10:51:06 AM
          Quote from: contracycle
          Hmm, I'm not so sure I see the distinction as that large.  That is, a theory is good to the extent it explains not just this issue here, but also has implications that explain other isssues.  At the very least, it must not be contradicted by any existing known thing.  Surely the ideal scientific process would also "draw on absolutely everything in the entire known universe and set it all to work achieving one end."
          We're right on the cusp of this subtle but I think very important distinction.  Let me put it this way.  Scientific work starts with rules, theory, and whatnot, moves down to things in the actual world, and then comes back up to more theory.  Thus the underlined part of your remark: what makes scientific explanation really valuable, its ultimate criterion of interest, is the implications for a larger range of questions.  This isn't about an explanation's validity, which just has to do with the explanation of the thing itself, but of its value, which is the implications for more theory.

          As Levi-Strauss describes it, mythic thought works exactly the opposite way.  It starts with things, moves up to theory and rules, and then moves back to things in the end.  So the validity of the myth, we might say, is again the adequation of theory to object.  But the larger value, which is mostly aesthetic rather than practical, is the other things manipulated in the process.  The goal isn't, you might say, to explain anything (since the whole process presumes that explanation is possible without significant change to the system) but to connect things satisfyingly.

          I do think there is a real difference here, but I always have a lot of trouble explaining how it works.  Hope this version helped a bit.

          It might be worth pointing out, though, that I agree with Derrida's assessment: the scientist/engineer who does things differently is only another myth created by the bricoleur.  But let's please not go there.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 13, 2004, 11:04:28 AM
          Quote from: Mike Holmes
          If you look back at the descriptions that Ron gives of what it is that "Premise" means as locally defined, he starts by saying it's a moral question. And then people questioned that statemtent, and ....

          So "Premise" at that point became like Obscenity is to the Supreme Court - something without a definition, but Ron knows it when he sees it. Yes, this really is the state of narrativism.
          I'd really like to hear what Ron has to say on this one.  You're much better read on this issue than I am, having been following it all from the start.  I guess I had thought that premise or the like was pretty solidly established in the theory.  Interesting.  This should probably go off and be its own thread, though, because it seems to me that the implication is that Narrativism is not particularly distinguished from Simulationism at all.
          Quote
          I've personally often used the term "meaning" as in "giving something a narrativism context means that the decision made will have meaning." Which doesn't suffice, because, of course, simulationism also has it's own sort of meaning, and what's more meaningful than the personal accomplishment of gamism? So it's a poor term, but it drives on something. That goal is what you said the goal of myth is above - to make sense of the world.
          If so, then you're right -- Narrativism would be very much comparable to myth.  But it seems to me that this would be the case because Narrativism is Simulationism wearing a funny hat.
          Quote
          Simulationism is concerned with the "otherworld" (to use Stafford's term) of the RPG to have a feeling of "realness" for the player. To the extent that this is a part of the ritual required to produce myth that "sticks" with the soul of the person playing, it could be a requirement, I don't know. But the "explanation" provided by the myth seems distinctly the narrativism part of play.
          Now this part I don't get.  You're making a subtle distinction here and I'm not quite following it.  It seems to me as though these two things are very tightly bound together: the explanation is what validates the system that describes the world, so explanation builds realness prompts explanation and so on.  For me, that was why I thought Sim was the obvious analogy, since as you say the reality of the otherworld is very much the point.  But as I see it, any myth necessarily asserts the validity of the culture that produces it, which in RPG terms means that any effective gameplay necessarily builds the reality of the otherworld by legitimating our understanding of it.  Something like that, anyway.  I thought this was the point of Sim, but not so much of Nar; by your argument, I think, the explaining and the realness are in effect simply preferential strategies that get labeled as Nar and Sim, respectively, but really they're the same process and ultimately produce the same thing -- which is to say myth.
          Quote
          I don't think that it's any mistake that I, Ron, and others associate Hero Quest with narrativism. Or that Hero Quest is about myth. Is it a perfect treatise? No, it's got huge gaping holes in it. But I do think that Myth is what narrativism is about.
          Would you agree with Ethan, then, that myth is what RPGs are about?


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 13, 2004, 11:15:16 AM
          Quote from: ethan_greer
          I think I see the point you're [Mike] making, but I don't see it quite that way. I think what we're doing is searching for the "It" of role-playing - what it's about, what it produces, what it is. Story was proposed and fell short. Myth seems closer to the mark for me. So, yes, I'm using Myth locally - but that's sort of the point. It loses usefulness as a term to distinguish the different CA, but that's not what I'm going for. I could be misreading what you mean by "locally" though.
          I may also be misreading what both of you mean by "locally."  If I understand you, you're arguing that myth is useful for understanding gaming in general, not for distinguishing CAs.  If that's your argument, I think you're right.  My initial proposal was that Sim is especially about myth, where Nar and Gam are to a significant degree also doing something else.  I suppose that's sort of like the Horseshoe theory: Sim is the mythic baseline, and then Nar and Gam spin off of that to add a further dimension.  Thus at that level I suppose it would be best to say that what Ron calls Exploration is myth, but that doesn't seem to match what he has in mind.  Am I getting you right, though?
          Quote
          Here's the thing: I think that role-playing (Nar and Sim, at least) is about producing Myth - I think Myth is the motivating factor that drives people to participate in the activity. But I think the Myth produced is like a terrarium. From inside (i.e. during play among the participants), the Myth is functional and meaningful. From outside, the Myth is observable but inaccessible and ultimately unable to fulfill any useful purpose to the observer. It's like trying to evaluate the Bororo myth.
          I am increasingly in agreement with you, and I suspect that Gamism is also part of this but I don't know how.  I do think that the terrarium analogy is a good one, but I think that this is not particularly the case with the Bororo material (for example).  It seems to me that the terrarium is very much what distinguishes RPGs from myth as it is practiced/told/constructed among tribal peoples.  RPGs first construct the terrarium, a closed space that is asserted to be different from the rest of the world, and then they myth-make within that, in the process actually drawing from lots of things outside the terrarium but pretending not to.  Myth among tribal peoples doesn't do this: part of the point is to assert that there is no terrarium, and that everything is part of the system.
          Quote
          Or, better yet, a role-playing group effectively becomes a micro-culture in which (and only in which) the resulting Myth is functional and meaningful.
          Yes, I completely agree with this.  Which is also why I think RPGs lend themselves to subculture identification and the like.
          Quote
          In effect, in order to understand role-playing you have to do it. Only then are you tapped in to the Myth as part of that micro-culture.
          This I don't agree with, actually.  I think one can analyze these myths from the outside, but first one has to get clear on what the process is -- which is all this stuff about myth and so on.  Once you have that in hand, I don't see why you can't analyze RPGs the same way an anthropologist can analyze a tribal culture.  Certainly it can't be done without a lot of work and a lot of encounters -- you can't do it just by reading about it -- but I don't see that RPGs are in principle so difficult to analyze.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: ethan_greer on December 13, 2004, 11:38:46 AM
          Quote from: clehrich
          Quote from: ethan_greer
          I think I see the point you're [Mike] making, but I don't see it quite that way. I think what we're doing is searching for the "It" of role-playing - what it's about, what it produces, what it is. Story was proposed and fell short. Myth seems closer to the mark for me. So, yes, I'm using Myth locally - but that's sort of the point. It loses usefulness as a term to distinguish the different CA, but that's not what I'm going for. I could be misreading what you mean by "locally" though.
          I may also be misreading what both of you mean by "locally."  If I understand you, you're arguing that myth is useful for understanding gaming in general, not for distinguishing CAs.  If that's your argument, I think you're right.  My initial proposal was that Sim is especially about myth, where Nar and Gam are to a significant degree also doing something else.  I suppose that's sort of like the Horseshoe theory: Sim is the mythic baseline, and then Nar and Gam spin off of that to add a further dimension.  Thus at that level I suppose it would be best to say that what Ron calls Exploration is myth, but that doesn't seem to match what he has in mind.  Am I getting you right, though?

          Yes, you're getting me right. And on reflection, I'm not sure if I know what "locally" means, either. Mike?

          Quote from: clehrich
          Quote
          In effect, in order to understand role-playing you have to do it. Only then are you tapped in to the Myth as part of that micro-culture.
          This I don't agree with, actually.  I think one can analyze these myths from the outside, but first one has to get clear on what the process is -- which is all this stuff about myth and so on.  Once you have that in hand, I don't see why you can't analyze RPGs the same way an anthropologist can analyze a tribal culture.  Certainly it can't be done without a lot of work and a lot of encounters -- you can't do it just by reading about it -- but I don't see that RPGs are in principle so difficult to analyze.

          Sure you can analyze it. But you won't be able to understand what role-playing is really like based on that analysis, in the same way you can't know what being a Bororo is like based on analysis of their myths. You'd have to go and live with the tribe, learn the language, etc. It's the difference between theory and practice.

          That's what I meant by "understand" in the quote above. Maybe I should have said "grok." :)


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 13, 2004, 11:47:33 AM
          Quote from: ethan_greer
          Sure you can analyze it. But you won't be able to understand what role-playing is really like based on that analysis, in the same way you can't know what being a Bororo is like based on analysis of their myths. You'd have to go and live with the tribe, learn the language, etc. It's the difference between theory and practice.

          That's what I meant by "understand" in the quote above. Maybe I should have said "grok." :)
          Oh, I see.  Yes, I suppose that is true.  But conversely, I also think that understanding what gaming is really like isn't all that difficult -- it's not really all that alien or different.  So for example, I think that a thick description (a la Clifford Geertz) of gaming would actually go a long way toward a deep understanding of RPGs from an outside perspective, because you'd be able to tie so much of it to things that are completely familiar about American (or wherever) culture.

          I think we're pretty much in agreement on this one.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Mike Holmes on December 13, 2004, 12:22:31 PM
          Quote from: clehrich
          I'd really like to hear what Ron has to say on this one.
          I really would too. It may well be that no matter how well read I am that this has all be clarified at some point, and that I'm merely filling in a gap in my own knowledge with something plausible.

          Quote
          This should probably go off and be its own thread, though, because it seems to me that the implication is that Narrativism is not particularly distinguished from Simulationism at all.
          I completely disagree. Even with the "hazyness" I percieve in the definition of narrativism, I still "get it" and don't see any confusion between the two modes. But that's not really the topic.

          Quote
          If so, then you're right -- Narrativism would be very much comparable to myth.  But it seems to me that this would be the case because Narrativism is Simulationism wearing a funny hat.
          Not getting your argument. Sounds like:

          1. Sim gets Myth.
          2. Nar gets Myth.
          3. Therefore sim and nar are the same.

          I'd disagree with assumption number 1 first, but even if not the logic is incorrect.

          1. Trees need water
          2. Chris needs water
          3. Therefore Chis is a tree.

          Quote
          It seems to me as though these two things are very tightly bound together: the explanation is what validates the system that describes the world, so explanation builds realness prompts explanation and so on.
          Well, they're both required, yes. But that's saying that all RPGs require exploration. The question is, when it comes to a point where you have to choose between whether to make the player feel that the process of myth creation is "real" or whether or not to get an "explanation" this is where the two modes break with each other.

          Put another way, for sim players all the explanations come from the GM generally, since to have somthing else means that they are creating the myths themselves, which takes away that special value that they have over just any old everday explanation of something. For narrativism, story now becomes "myth now," meaning that the player creates the meaning of the myth, as often as the GM does.

          Again, there's that level of self-referentiality there.

          Quote
          For me, that was why I thought Sim was the obvious analogy, since as you say the reality of the otherworld is very much the point.  But as I see it, any myth necessarily asserts the validity of the culture that produces it, which in RPG terms means that any effective gameplay necessarily builds the reality of the otherworld by legitimating our understanding of it.  Something like that, anyway.  
          Sure, but where's the meaning? Sim is about the player acting in a way to create the validity, not the myth itself. The GM creates the Myth with sim.

          Um, sim is leader lead myth production, and nar is collaborative myth production. Which is the real method ala Levi-Strauss? Sounds like the latter to me.

          Quote
          Would you agree with Ethan, then, that myth is what RPGs are about?
          No, I think that's going too far. The fuzzy area of gamism aside, I think that some players play completely divorced from the attempt to create such meaning. A theoretical form of play exists where the players really only want to experience a valid atlternate reality, which might have no "mythic" quality at all (and it's a form of sim). Just to start. Then there's the social aspect which can serve all manner of functions outside of meaning production as has been discussed. I'm sure there's more.

          Mike


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 13, 2004, 01:00:32 PM
          Quote from: Mike Holmes
          Quote
          If so, then you're right -- Narrativism would be very much comparable to myth.  But it seems to me that this would be the case because Narrativism is Simulationism wearing a funny hat.
          Not getting your argument. Sounds like:

          1. Sim gets Myth.
          2. Nar gets Myth.
          3. Therefore sim and nar are the same.
          Not quite what I meant, but I see that actually I was misunderstanding the distinction you see between Sim and Nar, so we can set this one aside.
          Quote
          Quote
          It seems to me as though these two things are very tightly bound together: the explanation is what validates the system that describes the world, so explanation builds realness prompts explanation and so on.
          Well, they're both required, yes. But that's saying that all RPGs require exploration. The question is, when it comes to a point where you have to choose between whether to make the player feel that the process of myth creation is "real" or whether or not to get an "explanation" this is where the two modes break with each other.
          See, to me these things really are very much the same.  If I construct a myth, it has to do something (or I would just be repeating, not constructing) and it has to validate the cultural system (or I would be incoherent).  But the thing is, in order for the myth to explain anything it has to validate the cultural system, because that's where it draws its explanation structures from, and in order for the myth to validate the cultural system, it has to explain something.  It sounds to me as though you're asserting that there is a kind of priority or preference here, where some people in a sense pay more attention to the explanations and other pay more attention to the legitimation, and there are probably others -- and these preferences would be CAs.  Something like that?
          Quote
          Put another way, for sim players all the explanations come from the GM generally, since to have somthing else means that they are creating the myths themselves, which takes away that special value that they have over just any old everday explanation of something. For narrativism, story now becomes "myth now," meaning that the player creates the meaning of the myth, as often as the GM does.
          Here is where I disagreement comes from, I think.  I think in Sim the myth-making can only be validated by reference to known structures, such as mechanics and the game-world and the source material.  What you cannot do is create new stuff like this.  But the thing is, this is how myth works anyway: you can't create new plants and animals, you can only work with what you have, and furthermore the structures are those of the culture.  That's why myth tends to validate cultural norms: it naturally tends to "prove" that the cultural norms are perfectly in tune with the natural world.  It seems to me that in Nar, you draw on additional constraints to the kinds of explanations and meanings you want to generate.  In Sim, the only absolute constraint is that you cannot add new things to the game-universe, which I think is why Sim players are often so adamantly opposed to meta-gaming and Director Stance and such: it seems like you're adding material and violating the constraint.
          Quote
          Quote
          For me, that was why I thought Sim was the obvious analogy, since as you say the reality of the otherworld is very much the point.  But as I see it, any myth necessarily asserts the validity of the culture that produces it, which in RPG terms means that any effective gameplay necessarily builds the reality of the otherworld by legitimating our understanding of it.  Something like that, anyway.  
          Sure, but where's the meaning? Sim is about the player acting in a way to create the validity, not the myth itself. The GM creates the Myth with sim.
          Well, what do you mean by "meaning" here?  See, in Nar I think this is an aesthetic constraint added more or less up front, things like Premise or Story or whatever.  In Sim, the meaning is the game-world, and thus the construction of myth in Sim is precisely about building reality and validating it.
          Quote
          Um, sim is leader lead myth production, and nar is collaborative myth production. Which is the real method ala Levi-Strauss? Sounds like the latter to me.
          The thing is, I don't agree that meaning in Sim is created by the GM; it seems to me that if that were true, Sim would be entirely a William Shatner "welcome to my world" thing, and I don't think that's the case.  It seems to me that the encounter with the otherworld, and the enrichment and deepening of it, happens by telling stories (in a loose sense) that validate how that otherworld works and its comprehensive totality.  So I'd see both as collaborative.
          Quote
          ... I think that some players play completely divorced from the attempt to create such meaning. A theoretical form of play exists where the players really only want to experience a valid atlternate reality, which might have no "mythic" quality at all (and it's a form of sim). Just to start. Then there's the social aspect which can serve all manner of functions outside of meaning production as has been discussed. I'm sure there's more.
          But to me, both of these are creations of meaning.  Unless we're talking about Walt's notion of "zilchplay," I think that actively experiencing a valid alternate reality requires that the players act to validate that reality.  Until they do so, it's not valid at all; it's only some guy's construct.  And so the process of play, which works to legitimate that this is a valid alternate reality is the construction of meaning.

          Look at it like this.  The natural world doesn't have meaning in itself; we have to put meaning there.  That's part of what people do, and one of the ways we can do this is through myth.  And what ends up happening is that you explain that the natural world is the way it is for good reasons that are really about you and your culture.  Everything "out there" becomes "in here," known and controllable.  And the more you can populate the world with that sort of meaning, the more it validates your cultural system because it says, in effect, "Look, we can handle anything, and the way the whole world works proves that our culture is right."

          In Sim, it seems to me that we're presented with a similar situation: a setting, some source material of whatever kind, and some mechanics.  But none of that means anything; it's all potential.  So then we go and interact with the world and demonstrate, through use of stories and mechanics and whatnot, that the game-world is indeed meaningful.  And that seems to me extremely similar to the imputation of meaning to plants and animals and weather and whatnot, which is what myth is about.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: ethan_greer on December 13, 2004, 01:29:03 PM
          I think we're meaning two different things when we say Myth, Mike. I think this because your arguments about Sim and Nar don't make any sense to me. Total left field here. It's rather disconcerting.

          Here's what I mean when I talk about Myth: Myth is an underlying cultural phenomenon. Its purpose is the communication and sharing of abstract cultural ideas. Its importance is diminished, has diminished, with the advent of text and the birth of a text-based society. Role-playing hearkens back to the time before text, when Myth was how we discovered, processed, understood, and internalized culture and one's identity within a culture. People perceive this more basic means of communication at a level that approaches unconsious; they've been doing it since before they knew words. The role-player, intrigued by the hobby's outward appearances or expressed concepts, tries it out and is moved by the experience of role-playing beyond any considerations of "let's pretend" or "let's tell a story together." That's Myth. If I had to place Myth somewhere in the Big Model, I wouldn't. I'd put it outside Social Contract.

          Of course, it's possible I'm going on a metaphysical bender.

          So, in that light, I make the following observations (which are invalidated if we're talking about different things):

          Of course a Sim player is creating Myth - he/she is in the terrarium (from my post above). There's as much Myth creation in a single instance of a player's Pawn Stance as there is in all of a Sim GM's behind-the-screen machinations. It's not about explanations or validity, it's about taking part in a process, a "system" if you will, whose byproduct is Myth, or an attempt at it.

          The concept of "Myth Now" is also very problematic for the same reasons - Myth is a much bigger factor in the process of role-playing than "Story Now," which is merely a factor of one of the Creative Agendas.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Matt Snyder on December 13, 2004, 01:30:40 PM
          Quote from: clerich
          Quote
          I've personally often used the term "meaning" as in "giving something a narrativism context means that the decision made will have meaning." Which doesn't suffice, because, of course, simulationism also has it's own sort of meaning, and what's more meaningful than the personal accomplishment of gamism? So it's a poor term, but it drives on something. That goal is what you said the goal of myth is above - to make sense of the world.
          If so, then you're right -- Narrativism would be very much comparable to myth.  But it seems to me that this would be the case because Narrativism is Simulationism wearing a funny hat.


          I haven't properly kept up with this thread. Chris, I'm not sure what you mean in that Simulationism seems to be comparable to myth (as you're using it), while Narrativism not comparable, or at least not as comparable. But that's an aside.

          I found Mike's language here to be extremely useful to me in acknowledging the difference between Simulationism and Narrativism.

          Like Mike, I've wrestled with the term "meaningful." I like the term when describing Narrativism, but it doesn't quite cinch it. Gamism can be meaningful, as can Simulationism.

          But, I have read Mike as saying the meaning in Narrativism is in making sense of the real world, to us the humans. By comparison, meaning in Simulationism is making sense of the imagined world. Of course, we might strive to do both in both Agendas, but the emphasis remains. In Narrativism, we're emphasizing results meaningful to our real, human lives. In Simulationism, we're emphasizing results meaningful to our explored, shared environment.

          Mike, is that a correct reading of your language? If not, you've inadvertently helped me out! I find it helpful to understanding the distinction among agendas. Thanks either way!


          Quote
          Now this part I don't get.  You're making a subtle distinction here and I'm not quite following it.  It seems to me as though these two things are very tightly bound together: the explanation is what validates the system that describes the world, so explanation builds realness prompts explanation and so on.  For me, that was why I thought Sim was the obvious analogy, since as you say the reality of the otherworld is very much the point.  But as I see it, any myth necessarily asserts the validity of the culture that produces it, which in RPG terms means that any effective gameplay necessarily builds the reality of the otherworld by legitimating our understanding of it.  Something like that, anyway.  I thought this was the point of Sim, but not so much of Nar; by your argument, I think, the explaining and the realness are in effect simply preferential strategies that get labeled as Nar and Sim, respectively, but really they're the same process and ultimately produce the same thing -- which is to say myth.


          Chris, I apologize for not reading your thoughts in this thread more carefully. I have the interest, but not the time lately! I can't decipher what you mean here, and I'm lost as to the how you found (but perhaps no longer do?) Simulation more ... relevant (?)  than other modes as it relates to myth. I don't understand, for example, how Simulationism accomplishes what you describe above in a way that other agendas do not. My uninformed position says, "Hmm, sounds like just ol' Exploration to me, so myth is applicable to all agendas here. Neat!" Indeed, that seems to be what you're getting 'round to thinking, maybe?

          I found Mike's posts helpful in this thread. I rather like the comparison to myth, the notion that RPGs create myth. I think it's a fine way of expressing what has long remained "that unamable thing" that RPGs produce or share like no other media.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Ron Edwards on December 13, 2004, 01:33:27 PM
          Hello,

          Small and short note: I despise the entire idea that anything is defined as "I know it when I see it." To me, definitions are concrete, transferable, and socially useful, or they aren't definitions at all.

          I've never used that phrasing or logic in dealing with Narrativism. To have it attributed to me is not tolerable.

          Best,
          Ron


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 13, 2004, 01:41:35 PM
          Quote from: ethan_greer
          Here's what I mean when I talk about Myth: Myth is an underlying cultural phenomenon. Its purpose is the communication and sharing of abstract cultural ideas. Its importance is diminished, has diminished, with the advent of text and the birth of a text-based society. Role-playing hearkens back to the time before text, when Myth was how we discovered, processed, understood, and internalized culture and one's identity within a culture. People perceive this more basic means of communication at a level that approaches unconsious; they've been doing it since before they knew words. The role-player, intrigued by the hobby's outward appearances or expressed concepts, tries it out and is moved by the experience of role-playing beyond any considerations of "let's pretend" or "let's tell a story together." That's Myth. If I had to place Myth somewhere in the Big Model, I wouldn't. I'd put it outside Social Contract.

          Of course, it's possible I'm going on a metaphysical bender.
          I think you just very neatly expressed a lot of what I've been going around in circles trying to express.  Thanks!  The only part I'm leery of is the bit about Social Contract at the end, but I need to think about it.

          Quote
          Of course a Sim player is creating Myth - he/she is in the terrarium (from my post above). There's as much Myth creation in a single instance of a player's Pawn Stance as there is in all of a Sim GM's behind-the-screen machinations. It's not about explanations or validity, it's about taking part in a process, a "system" if you will, whose byproduct is Myth, or an attempt at it.
          Well, it seems to me that the effect of the process is indeed explanation and validation, but if you're saying (as I think you are) that ultimately that's not really why we do this sort of thing, I would tend to agree.  That is, I think we manipulate these symbols and structures and tell myths in large part because it is deeply enjoyable and self-affirming; it also happens to be true, though this is often not apparent to people telling myths (or playing RPGs) that we generate an intricate system of interwoven meanings that take on a life of their own and tend to affirm the legitimacy of the way we choose to live our lives, but that's not the primary reason people do it.
          Quote
          The concept of "Myth Now" is also very problematic for the same reasons - Myth is a much bigger factor in the process of role-playing than "Story Now," which is merely a factor of one of the Creative Agendas.
          Yes, I'd agree.  I'm increasingly of the opinion that RPGs in general are a subset of the larger category "mythic thought".  RPGs are just one way to go about this, and they are narrower and in some respects less sophisticated than myths among tribal peoples who've been doing this for a hell of a long time.  By that logic, putting myth down into the boxes somewhere utterly misses the point.

          But I'm still struggling with Gamism, probably because I have so little direct experience of it.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 13, 2004, 01:55:43 PM
          Quote from: Matt Snyder
          But, I have read Mike as saying the meaning in Narrativism is in making sense of the real world, to us the humans. By comparison, meaning in Simulationism is making sense of the imagined world. Of course, we might strive to do both in both Agendas, but the emphasis remains. In Narrativism, we're emphasizing results meaningful to our real, human lives. In Simulationism, we're emphasizing results meaningful to our explored, shared environment.
          I'll let Mike handle whether you're reading him right.  From my perspective, this does seem reasonably accurate.  As you say, it's a question of emphasis: in both cases, we're manipulating symbols in order to impute deeper meaning to our actual lives, but that's relatively overt in Nar and not particularly so -- in fact often flatly denied -- in Sim.

          John Kim has a thread going over in GNS that's about this in Nar. (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=13670)

          Quote
          Quote
          Now this part I don't get.  You're making a subtle distinction here and I'm not quite following it.  It seems to me as though these two things are very tightly bound together: the explanation is what validates the system that describes the world, so explanation builds realness prompts explanation and so on.  For me, that was why I thought Sim was the obvious analogy, since as you say the reality of the otherworld is very much the point.  But as I see it, any myth necessarily asserts the validity of the culture that produces it, which in RPG terms means that any effective gameplay necessarily builds the reality of the otherworld by legitimating our understanding of it.  Something like that, anyway.  I thought this was the point of Sim, but not so much of Nar; by your argument, I think, the explaining and the realness are in effect simply preferential strategies that get labeled as Nar and Sim, respectively, but really they're the same process and ultimately produce the same thing -- which is to say myth.
          .... I'm lost as to the how you found (but perhaps no longer do?) Simulation more ... relevant (?)  than other modes as it relates to myth. I don't understand, for example, how Simulationism accomplishes what you describe above in a way that other agendas do not. My uninformed position says, "Hmm, sounds like just ol' Exploration to me, so myth is applicable to all agendas here. Neat!" Indeed, that seems to be what you're getting 'round to thinking, maybe?
          All I meant was that Sim is in some sense "about" the depth and meaningful cohesion of the game-world; this I think is what Ron means by the Dream.  Of course such meaning and cohesion is important in all gaming, but my understanding is that Sim is defined as making this the central issue.

          I am, as you say, increasingly coming to think that myth is at the core of all RPGs.  I don't know that I'd plop that down as Exploration, though, at least not in the local jargon sense.  It seems to me that Exploration is quite a lot narrower.  To my mind, myth is a really vast and complicated thing that works at all kinds of levels simultaneously; I'd tend to agree with Ethan that if it were placed in the Big Model at all, it would have to go in right up there at the top.
          Quote
          I rather like the comparison to myth, the notion that RPGs create myth. I think it's a fine way of expressing what has long remained "that unamable thing" that RPGs produce or share like no other media.
          Well, it's certainly helpful to me.  I must confess that I'm rather surprised so many others find it so, although I'm delighted.  I feel like in this thread we're all making some kind of larger progress, and it sounds like you think so too.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Mike Holmes on December 13, 2004, 01:58:40 PM
          Quote from: Ron Edwards
          Small and short note: I despise the entire idea that anything is defined as "I know it when I see it." To me, definitions are concrete, transferable, and socially useful, or they aren't definitions at all.

          I've never used that phrasing or logic in dealing with Narrativism. To have it attributed to me is not tolerable.


          Well, it might read that way, but I never atrributed that to you, look again. Simply that whatever the definitions of premise/theme are, currently that they're not widely known, understood, or accepted. I'm sure you know what you mean by it, and have tried like the dickens to get the idea across using any number of definitions. But at least one person has been left scrathing his head at times.

          And it's not because I don't want to define it, or want it to be "What I know when I see it". It's merely because at this point I don't have a better way to explain it than that. What I'm doing here in this thread is hoping that Myth will turn out to be it. Because it seems right to me.

          In the end, why all the "say it yourself" stuff, if it's not a problematically defined concept at this point? If there were a definition of these things that everyone could hang their hat on, then this wouldn't be required, would it?

          What I can say is that in my "say it yourself" moment, that I say that narrativism produces myth. That's what works for me. Before all I could say was that I know it when I see it. Which wasn't tolerable.

          Now, I'm probably wrong, but nobody's proven that to me yet.

          Mike


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 13, 2004, 02:20:52 PM
          In "Story Now," Ron quotes with approval the following, originally written by Langdon Darkwood:
          Quote
          In Narrativism, by contrast, the major source of themes are the ones that are brought to the table by the players / GM (if there is one) regardless of the genre or setting used. So, to sum up, themes in Nar play are created by the participants and that's the point; themes in Sim play are already present in the Dream, reinforced by the play, and kind of a by-product.
          So for example, if we play a heavy moral anguish about espionage thing, we can do it Sim by examining the ways this moral anguish is part of the genre, of the source material.  Alternatively, we can essentially use the genre and the play to address this ourselves, bringing something that is understood to be exterior to the game-world (i.e. what's going on in our heads and our lives) into play.

          Now I think this is a pretty subtle distinction, a very fine line.  The thing is, Sim may claim not to be bringing that exterior stuff into the game, but of course it is -- unless of course the players are actually robots.  Conversely, Nar may think of these issues as in some sense exterior, but there would be a total communication breakdown if those issues were not already potentially active within the game-world.

          From my point of view, this is what makes Sim more overtly like myth.  It makes the claim, anyway, that it does not draw into the game anything not already present in it; like the bricoleur, the Sim gamer refuses to put new things into his work, and uses only the stuff he already has.

          The thing that's really peculiar here, with both Sim and Nar, is that there is this acceptance and agreement that there really is a firm distinction between in-game and out-of-game.  But analytically, such a distinction just doesn't make a lot of sense.  If we are people sitting around talking, how does having dice in our hands suddenly make that not humans communicating?  I find that claim fascinating, and it's something I do not think is usually present in myth.  It's quite distinctive.

          In any event, I'm hoping that we're getting closer to a sufficient baseline agreement on the distinction between Sim and Nar that we can debate more deeply how these things relate to myth.  And I'm also hoping that somebody is going to explain Gamism to me!


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Mike Holmes on December 13, 2004, 03:02:12 PM
          Quote from: clehrich
          Now I think this is a pretty subtle distinction, a very fine line. The thing is, Sim may claim not to be bringing that exterior stuff into the game, but of course it is -- unless of course the players are actually robots.
          Well, again, see my comments about this in Beeg Horseshoe 2. I don't actally believe in sim all by itself. I think all play is to some extent actually hybrid, or described in other ways, depending on your opinion of what sim is. Basically they are occasionally mutually exclusive, but otherwise both constantly present.

          So this doesn't conflict with your viewpoint, AFAICT. Matt's sorta right in his reading. I wouldn't put it the way he did, but it's not adverse to how I see things.

          Anyhow what this points out, however, is that two players may be getting their myth in ways that displease the other as a member of the group. Again, is the player creating meaning in an external (metagame) fashion, or is he only doing so as an internal part of the game process?

          Mike


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 13, 2004, 04:46:57 PM
          Quote from: Mike Holmes
          Well, again, see my comments about this in Beeg Horseshoe 2. I don't actally believe in sim all by itself. I think all play is to some extent actually hybrid, or described in other ways, depending on your opinion of what sim is. Basically they are occasionally mutually exclusive, but otherwise both constantly present.
          I'll sit down and re-read that soon.  From the way I recall it, this explains our apparent -- but not perhaps real -- disagreement.  You're talking about CAs according to a somewhat different baseline theory.  So when you say myth and narrativism are very similar, you don't mean "as opposed to sim," because you consider sim a fundamental part of nar.  Right?
          Quote
          Anyhow what this points out, however, is that two players may be getting their myth in ways that displease the other as a member of the group. Again, is the player creating meaning in an external (metagame) fashion, or is he only doing so as an internal part of the game process?
          That makes sense to me.  For me, it's also one of the distinctions between CAs, but I gather that's not how you see it?


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 13, 2004, 11:38:46 PM
          Quote from: Mike Holmes
          Quote from: clehrich
          Now I think this is a pretty subtle distinction, a very fine line. The thing is, Sim may claim not to be bringing that exterior stuff into the game, but of course it is -- unless of course the players are actually robots.
          Well, again, see my comments about this in Beeg Horseshoe 2. I don't actally believe in sim all by itself. I think all play is to some extent actually hybrid, or described in other ways, depending on your opinion of what sim is. Basically they are occasionally mutually exclusive, but otherwise both constantly present.
          Okay, so I just read the first couple of pages of that thread (which is here (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=6663)).  Are you saying that the flat plane upon which the Nar and Gam axes are projected is myth?  Or are you saying that the Nar axis is myth while the Gam axis is something else?

          I'd agree with the first (within that framework, anyway) and not so much the second.  The more I turn all this over in my head, the more I think that mythic thought is an overarching category into which gaming falls.  If you like models like this, with planes and axes and such, I suppose you could say that the plane is properly speaking Exploration, the axes express some further choice or direction (CAs Gam and Nar), and the whole piece of paper or something is myth.  The point being that there is a lot more to myth than we actually find in gaming; gaming is tightly constrained and limited by comparison.

          Now following that up for a second, I think this actually makes good sense for a tripartite model rather than Horseshoe 2.  Here's why.

          Okay, so you've got this enormous and difficult thing: myth.  It's something we've really lost track of in our culture, largely as an effect of writing's dominance, and in many respects we are not very good at it.  Under certain odd circumstances, we can set up a very narrowly delimited field of action in which we can do mythic thinking.  But if we let it get loose, we lose our grip, because (1) our universe is too damn big and we don't think everything in it is controlled and meaningful, and (2) we're just not all that good at this any more.  So what we do as I say is set up a tight constraint; this is what Ethan neatly called the terrarium.  The field is circumscribed and in theory its borders are impermeable to the outside; we can look in, and we can manipulate what happens on the inside, but we tell ourselves that the inside doesn't get outside so that we can keep the thing under some sort of control.

          Now within the terrarium, we still need constraint, because to begin with it seems like just emptiness.  We need to decide on what sorts of things belong in the terrarium and what sorts of manipulation of them we will do.  Without that, we don't have any way to assess whether what we're doing is valid.  If this were regular myth, without the terrarium, we have two great ways to validate our myths: first, whether it fits smoothly with how our culture actually works, and second, whether it fits with how the natural things we play with actually operate.  The former is why myth tends to be very conservative, bolstering cultural structures and choices.  The latter is why mythic thought has an odd habit of discovering all kinds of technical and so forth advances without anything resembling what we'd recognize as experimentation.  But getting back to gaming, we don't have this, because we've announced that the glass of the terrarium is impermeable.

          So first we choose some materials to throw in there: the source material, of whatever kind.  Next, we make some aesthetic choices about how we will play with them: these are the CAs.

          If we choose Gam or Nar priorities, we in effect set into motion a particular kind of process within the terrarium, and we manipulate our symbols and objects with reference to that.  Are we creating Story Now?  Because if not, we're doing it wrong.  And so on.  (I'm working on how Gam fits this, but I think it does.)  If we choose Sim priorities, we basically say, "Okay, apart from the fact that this is happening in a terrarium, we're going to do myth quite straight: this is about valid manipulation of the symbols to discover new facts about the terrarium-world and to legitimate that world as a world.  But note that this choice is a real choice, not a default: we have elected to set up our priorities in mythic terms, which is by no means a normal thing to do in our culture.

          Now a number of factors result from this, as I see it.  I'll give a list next post, as this is already getting long.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 13, 2004, 11:49:47 PM
          Okay, so just a few "predictions" from this myth model.   Obviously they're not really predictions, because I know the results in advance, but this is how the mythic thought approach really pays off for me: it makes comprehensible and even obvious a number of odd factors about gaming that usually seem to require independent explanations.

          1. Gam and Nar must recognize from the outset that the guiding aesthetic (the CA principle) is not logically part of the terrarium-world, but rather imposed to give it better order.  Thus Gam and Nar are also somewhat less concerned with the coherence and consistency of the terrarium-world, because they have already accepted an overriding concern from outside of it.  This also entails that Gam and Nar can be somewhat more overt about the effects and meanings of the myths they create upon their own actual lives.

          2. Sim takes it as a fundamental priority that the game-world be tightly constrained, because without this you have no guard-rails to keep myth within sane bounds and the whole thing collapses.  This leads to a certain amount of overstatement and a kind of haunting fear of the lines being crossed.  For example, I think things like Mazes and Monsters pick up a very real fear in Sim gaming, but invert it: they do exactly what is in a sense least likely to happen in Sim.

          3. The fact that we usually associate this kind of thinking with a type of myth that has, for us, become very much a literary form, entails that there is a tendency to want the game to turn into a story.  That is, we think that if our game generates a story of some kind of literary quality, this will demonstrate that we have really succeeded mythically.  This is not in fact the case, a matter of category error, but it stems from our historical association of myth with moral allegory and tragedy and the like.  Thus perhaps the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast.

          4. The fact that mythic thought really does tend naturally to incorporate everything entails that RPGs, perhaps especially long-running campaigns, increasingly become rich worlds of their own.  This can lead to all sorts of subcuture behaviors, because in a sense it is increasingly difficult to see why the terrarium-world is not considerably superior to the real world, at least in the sense of having rich depth and meaning at a human level.  I think this is one of the things that is particularly attractive about the fantasy genre, e.g. Tolkien: meaninglessness and existential angst and so on just don't really happen there, and the smallest person (literally, in the case of hobbits) and his personal peculiarities have a real place in the cosmos.

          5. To throw yet more confusion into the mix, I should note that the construction of the terrarium, as a limited sphere within social discourse and within which mythic thought will happen in a constrained manner, is exactly what Catherine Bell means by "ritualization," and it has many of the same effects.  In particular, the division tends naturally to acquire claims of radical difference or distinction.  For example, gamers quite naturally seem to see a hard division between in-game and out-of-game, in-character and OOC, and so on.  None of these things would be immediately obvious to an outside observer with no prior experience of gaming, but they are extremely so to any gamer.

          6. I suspect that this ritualization, read here also as the assertion of the impermeability of the terrarium walls, will tend to reach its most extreme expressions in Sim, because of the lack of other constraints.  Thus we would predict, and I suspect it's the case, that Sim games will be particularly inclined toward rules about speaking in-character, to rigidity about character knowledge, and so forth.  AD&D's demand that certain manuals -- such as the Monster Manual -- not be accessible to the players fits this well.

          7. One thing that I think is particularly interesting here is that because Sim is naturally inclined, as a relatively "true" form of mythic thought, to run loose, I think the tendency toward very strong GM control is a way of imposing constraint.  At the same time, from this analysis it would seem also to undermine the whole point of Sim; this is something I think is very important, and it needs to get worked out.  To put it directly, why do Sim games lend themselves to authoritarian GMs constructed as godlike?

          8. Given the contradictory nature of the imposition of Gam or Nar preferences over the internal cohesion of the game-world, I think it's not surprising to find, anecdotally at least, that such games do not as a rule run on extremely long.  Sim games, by contrast, develop their validity through the ongoing construction of cohesion and complexity, and thus you have the sort of Holy Grail traditional sprawling campaign that runs for years.  What's important here is that Sim games often do hold this up as an ideal, whether they achieve it or not, while I do not generally see this in the rhetoric of Gam or Nar.

          9. Lévi-Strauss made a weird argument that myth is classifying and ritual unifying.  In RPGs, this works simultaneously at contrasting levels.  Within the game-world, classification is very important, in the sense that we want to divide up the initially similar into different things.  We encounter “a policeman,” and we have a choice whether to keep him vague like this or make him specific, a person.  More specifically, this is mechanics: instead of “well, you shoot him,” we want to know what happens in particular.  How does this shot happen?  How much damage is done?  How do we assess the meaning of the shot?  All that.  So the mechanics assist us in dividing up the bits and pieces we encounter and giving them specificity and structure.  By contrast, the unifying ritual effect occurs socially, because the ritual process here is about that terrarium we set up.  So at that level, the desire is to come to full agreement and unity about what is happening in the game world, and for us as a group to be a group.  Thus the tendency to think that gaming makes us friends, the Geek Fallacy.

          Anyway, enough rambling.  Thoughts?  I feel like we’re getting somewhere, but that could just be me.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: ethan_greer on December 14, 2004, 06:32:18 AM
          Regarding your point 7, why do Sim games lend themselves to authoritarian GMs? Historically, I think this may stem from the style of Gamism that went on in the early days, when games really did need a "referee" in the literal sense of the world. As Sim priorities came to the fore over the years (which occurred as a result of the propensity toward Mythic thought in role-playing) this concept of a GM as final authority was carried along. From a practical standpoint, having one person watching over the terrarium and maintaining the Mythic consistency could be quite liberating for the players, who can push and prod the Myth to discover its boundaries while knowing that someone will keep the whole business from collapsing.

          In general, I'm in 100% agreement with you, Chris. I'm also with you on the feeling that this is an important conversation.

          For me, my understanding of Myth makes it unmistakably the "It" of role-playing. This is a pleasing discovery to have made.

          I guess my question would be, what do we do with this information? Are we navel gazing? Or is there practical application for all this theory stuff? I guess for me the application is my own understanding of and new appreciation for the form. But if we can somehow apply these concepts to game design and/or play, that would be super duper.

          Regarding Gamism: I have two thoughts. 1) Gamism doesn't fit in with Myth; it's something else that from the outside looks the same as Myth-based play. I'm not very satisfied with this, but I mention it as a point for discussion. 2) Gamism is about Heroes, Campbell's "Hero's Journey", and that sort of stuff. I don't know if that's particularly valid, but it's an association that I can't seem to shake so I'm airing it.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Mike Holmes on December 14, 2004, 07:13:02 AM
          First, it's not precisely inaccurate, but misleading to say that my version of the Beeg Horseshoe says that Sim is a fundamental part of Nar. What I say is that either Sim does not exist alone in a vacuum, and all play is hybrid, or Sim does not exist at all. To the extent that Sim does exist, it's as a support level for the "realness" of the game world, a threshold below which the player is not willing to go.

          Because I don't think that Sim creates meaning in, if you'll pardon me, any meaningful sense. You have it here:
          Quote
          To put it directly, why do Sim games lend themselves to authoritarian GMs constructed as godlike?
          Because the meaning element has to be added by someone. In sim play, the players do not add meaning, any more than one adds mythic meaning through day to day living. In sim play, the player rejects the metagame, and, sans some other controlling factor, all you get is a facsimile of life in another place.

          To the extent that you insist that all creation is, in fact, meaningful, you agree with me that all play of this sort is actually narrativism. This is why I come to Beeg Horseshoe from Ron's theory. When it comes down to it, narrativism is about players creating meaning of some sort from what I can tell.

          Here's where you and John Kim have always had a problem with the theory, because you rightly don't see any play by the players as being devoid of meaning. So all play that you, he, and I observe is narrativism to some extent. The only question is to what extent power is given to the players to do this in a somewhat metagame way, or to which they are required not to be storytellers, but merely the interpreters of the acts of characters inside the game.

          Again, that doesn't mean that they aren't making meaning, even if they're playing completely in-game. But, again, the only reasonable definition of narrativism that I can find includes this play as "narrativism-ish". Simulationism as a CA, devoid of narrativism,  then would only be those players who somehow are either stripped of all power to create meaning by the GM (which I postulate is actually somewhat common thing to be attempted, but which may not be completely possible), or where the player abdicates all willingness to create meaning, and only has his character do "plausible" things without care for meaning.

          Again, as I see it, "Sim" is merely the attempt to give the game world "weight" but not meaning. Narrativism is the meaning. Hence why I see nearly all play as hybrid this way to some extent. I can't see many games being completely devoid of either.

          What I can see are thresholds for these things set at such levels that play of one player will still annoy play of another player. So the model still has predictive power just as it did before. And still, IMO, explains the problems of incoherent play. My "adjustement" to the model is only to get people to understand that narrativism never, ever does with less than complete plausibility. The only question is whether or not the players have powers that make them not only actors in the otherworld, but also "gods" like the GM.

          People make this mistake all the time. Gamism and narrativism can be completely as plausible as sim. Where they differ is in the maintenence of the illusion that the player is in-game, and that in-game world has some "real" existence. That is, as soon as a player starts making myth, he's no longer the character only, but a god as well. To the extent that this is obvious it may step over the sim threshold.

          To put this all in another perspective, if we say that sim can create meaning, then what is it that nar does? Your argument is that it "textualizes" or makes more like literature the myth being created? Well, I simply don't see it that way, that's not my experience at all. Nar is about how obviously metagame the player's power is to create meaning.

          So I see you as shifting the GNS paradigm here in a way that's confusing. Separating meaning from how meaning is created vis a vis the metagame seems intuitive to me. Saying that they're both creation of meaning, but that one then goes on to make that meaning specialized in some way seems to be creating definitions that weren't there before, and, worse, lose GNS it's predictive powers.

          That is, the use of GNS is in predicting incoherence. If we go with your model, we now have to suppose that the players in sim somehow reject the "textual story" that's created by narrativism, because they want to creat myth instead. Well, again, if that's the case, then all of the power that I've given to my players has been used to create myth, and my players are all sim. In fact, there are no players who play using narrativism that I've ever seen.

          Again, this shows where you and John have a problem understanding narrativism, because you both assume it's something that you've never seen, when, in fact, you have. The people who claim to play narrativism don't sit around the table saying things like, "It would be really cool to end the story with a Faulkner-esqe twist, so let's try to maneuver things so that we can accomplish that." Making a protagonist out of a character merely means making him someone who creates meaning for the players. And nothing more than that.

          This is why I rail at Paul Czege sometimes when he tries to add things to the definition of narrativism. Because in doing so, he, too, breaks GNS from it's predictive power by trying to make it more about literature and the like. The dividing line between N and S, where one player will like play, and another player will not in terms of being mutally exclusive agendas of play, is only at the point which the play by players becomes "noticeably" metagame.

          Where I agree with you and with what John has pointed out so many times before, is that RPGs are not literature, or other media. What they create is, in fact, more mythic than these things, from what I can tell.


          Now, I'm not buying a lot of what's going on here. But just for kicks, if you want to mix gamism in here, here's a crazy notion that just might fit. It goes to the idea that RPG play is heroquests, or visionquests. And that is, if these things actually have ritual property, then, Chris, does it not stand to reason that the participant in the ritual be tested, and, if successful, have his position in the community validated in some way? Isn't the self-esteem gained by "winning" the challenges of the game a way to validate the player's quality in belonging to the community? A rite of passage, as it were? This is interesting in that the act itself doesn't create mythic meaning, but instead validates the player's place (player, not character) in the myth. Making them mutually exclusive, as the model predicts. That is, in TROS, one shifts modes from creation of meaning before combat, to validation of player participation in combat. Attemtping to mix the two will end up with player rejection as they either fail to make meaning outside of combat, or their character dies in combat.

          So:
          Narrativism - player creation of myth
          Simulationism - validation of the ritual space in which the myth is created (consecration)
          Gamism - validation of player participation in the myth

          Seems pretty tidy to me. Not that I buy it, particularly, but it would be a good place to start a cult from. :-)

          Note this post cross posted with Ethan, but the difference between the Campbellian Heroquest and the original concept is that the character is a surrogate for the reader in literature. In a "real" quest, the participant is actually tested. Again, this matches up with gamism, and the need for "real" failure conditions, and "fairness" and all of the other necessities of gamism. The player is actually tested in the ritual, through the vehicle of the character, as opposed to simply the character being tested.

          Mike


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Caldis on December 14, 2004, 07:46:23 AM
          I've been following the discussion all along and it's been fascinating, thanks for taking the time to start it and bringing your knowledge of Levi-Strauss to us Chris.  I still have a problem in understanding how mythmaking worked for the tribes that employed it and I think my problem relates to the distinction between nar and sim agendas.

          I'll quote a little bit of your last example.

          Quote from: clehrich

          One solution is the cargo-cult, but Hainuwele is another.  Through myth, we think it through, and we come to a solution.  The gifts are shit (thus excreted), and not valuable, so we don't owe the Dutch anything.  And if we use the gifts for other purposes (such as trading with our neighbors), we can make them into yams (thus the planting of the body and its turning into yams) which do have value, therefore getting something for nothing.  The trick is thus to transform shit into food, and in order to do that we have to refuse direct relations with the shit-givers.



          My question is one of process.  When would the myth be created?  In this example you seem to be saying that the myth is created and used to help make the decision on how to use the Dutch trade goods.  That would seem to be narrativistic to me, using the created 'story' to make a point.

          On the flip side you've mentioned that two entirely different stories can be the same myth, "rotting lizards and exploding grandmothers".  It seems unlikely that both could have been used at the same time to make the decision so it would seem likely that they were created after the fact as an oral history.  This would seem simulationist to me, with only the gm knowing how the story works out and the players taking the part of the meaningful players in the story.  They are expected to act as the symbolic thing they represent, warrior, healer, scoundrel, vampire, etc.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: contracycle on December 14, 2004, 07:55:43 AM
          Quote from: Mike Holmes

          Simulationism - validation of the ritual space in which the myth is created (consecration)


          Apart from general agreement with your post, this looks very juicy to me.  I think it can be expanded somewhat to explain to the auteur-GM role as well; just as in most cases where an object or space is rendered sacred by some form of ritual specialist, one could see the game space being rendered 'live' by the game-specialist.  

          The attributed social authority of the GM/Priest empowers them to consecrate the game/ritual.  And this authority is based on the GM/Priests special, unusual, knowledge and insight.  

          And actually it occurs to me further that this insight and knowledge are themselves alien, possessed of an even greater super-legitimacy than that of the presiding officiant simply by virtue of existing as published work, as being From Afar, as being handed down by a Higher Power - the designer.  The GM is moses come down from the mountain.

          All of which makes the cargo-cult phenomenon of RPG seem inevitable.  So I was wrong after all - the GM is not god, the GM is a priest.

          I'm not going to comment on the gamist angle just yet but I'm champing at the bit.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: ethan_greer on December 14, 2004, 08:22:18 AM
          Mike, I think I can I see where you're coming from now, which is a big relief. I don't agree with all of what you're saying, but I can at least understand it.

          One disagreement I'd like to discuss:
          Quote
          In sim play, the players do not add meaning, any more than one adds mythic meaning through day to day living.

          Are you using "meaning" to mean the same as "Myth" here? A Sim player is very much a part of the creation of Myth (or meaning as you seem to be using it here), and as people, we certainly add mythic meaning through day to day living, almost by definition. Again, it seems like when you say "Myth" you mean something different from what Chris and I mean when we say "Myth." I provided a summary which Chris agreed with a few posts up; can you take a look and tell me whether or not we're on the same page?

          In your latest post in which you break down the three modes, you seem to be landing on the side of Chris and me that Sim is the baseline mode; it is the "purest" search for Myth. Is that a fair statement?

          I like your take on Gamism. Near as I can tell, we agree. That is, while the character in the game is going on a Campbellian Hero's Journey (Ron's Challenge), the player is seeking status within the micro-culture of his or her fellow players (Ron's Step On Up).

          Edit: I just realized that this thread has answered both of Ron's Hard Questions from the the Nar and Gam essays: We role-play because it produces Myth, and no other activity in our culture does so. Neat.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 14, 2004, 09:27:17 AM
          Quote from: ethan_greer
          Regarding your point 7, why do Sim games lend themselves to authoritarian GMs? Historically, I think this may stem from the style of Gamism that went on in the early days, when games really did need a "referee" in the literal sense of the world. As Sim priorities came to the fore over the years (which occurred as a result of the propensity toward Mythic thought in role-playing) this concept of a GM as final authority was carried along. From a practical standpoint, having one person watching over the terrarium and maintaining the Mythic consistency could be quite liberating for the players, who can push and prod the Myth to discover its boundaries while knowing that someone will keep the whole business from collapsing.
          I think contracycle is on to something on this one.  I don't think this is an effect of Gamism; there's something not quite clicking for me there, and I feel like if I could get my mind wrapped around how GMs are supposed to work within a mythic context I'd be more satisfied.  I'll comment on contracycle's interesting suggestion in a sec.
          Quote
          In general, I'm in 100% agreement with you, Chris. I'm also with you on the feeling that this is an important conversation.
          Yes, I genuinely think we're making some progress.
          Quote
          I guess my question would be, what do we do with this information? Are we navel gazing? Or is there practical application for all this theory stuff? I guess for me the application is my own understanding of and new appreciation for the form. But if we can somehow apply these concepts to game design and/or play, that would be super duper.
          Well, you'd have to ask someone more practically-minded than I, but I do think there are significant practical implications here.  Sim has long seemed like the "tricky one"; I think in the Horseshoe 2 thread Mike remarked that it seemed like the weird uncle in the closet.  My sense is that this is because Sim is trying to do something that has very little other outlet in our culture, and this causes all sorts of confusions and distractions.  We get all tied up with things like rules systems and GM power and stories and so forth.  But if we have a clearer sense of what it is we're doing, by really delving deeply into mythic thought, we have a better chance of having our Sim games work actively (rather than what Ron calls "ouija board play," where you wait for "it" to happen).

          One thing I could see coming out of this is in mechanics development.  Instead of working strictly on causality and "realism" sorts of issues, it might be worth trying to build mechanical models that guide bricolage.  This would allow one to construct myth sort of with a net, which helps in a society that's less familiar with the process as a basic activity.

          Another point is I'd like to see more development of ways to manipulate the objects of the fictive world, using explicit analogical structures and so forth.  This would to some degree replace the spontaneous mythic thought with a conscious reflexive version, but that seems to me in keeping with the general tenor of our society and this kind of activity.

          Just a few thoughts, but yes, I do think this has practical implications.
          Quote
          2) Gamism is about Heroes, Campbell's "Hero's Journey", and that sort of stuff. I don't know if that's particularly valid, but it's an association that I can't seem to shake so I'm airing it.
          That one I need to think about a lot.  I haven't read Campbell in years, and didn't like him then.  But what you're describing sounds to me not unlike how his mentor, Mircea Eliade, used to talk about myth in terms of a kind of participation and reactualization process.  Let me get back to that when I've had a chance to turn it over in my head.  If you guys want to explain how you link up the heroquest to gamism, I'd be much obliged.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Mike Holmes on December 14, 2004, 09:42:38 AM
          Quote
          But if we have a clearer sense of what it is we're doing, by really delving deeply into mythic thought, we have a better chance of having our Sim games work actively (rather than what Ron calls "ouija board play," where you wait for "it" to happen).
          No, see, if we have a "clearer view" of what's happening, then we're playing narrativism. That's precisely what Ron is saying here. Without an intent to create meaning, none is created.

          Ethan, no, Sim isn't purer, it's not creating myth at all. That's what I'm trying to get at. Myth requires that the audience, the players in this case, recieve some sense of something like "place in the world" or the like. That's what I mean by "meaning" in this context - precisely what Myth is trying to get at. Which requires only creating the meaning, if you assume that the ritual space is already consecrated. That is, you can create myth with a low sim threshold (what would traditionally be called narrativism) as long as all of the participants agree that it's OK for players to do it in the visible metagame. Uh, call it "somewhat less sacredly" or something.

          Sim alone I say doesn't or only rarely exists. What's called sim is simply a high respect for the "in-gameness" of the characters, and does not reject completely the player creation of meaning. But to the extent that it doesn't reject this, it's hybrid narrativism.

          The "validity" criteria is sim, and the added meaning is narrativism. Sans all narrativism, you have the meaning only being created by the GM (if at all).

          Mike


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 14, 2004, 10:22:10 AM
          Quote from: Mike Holmes
          First, it's not precisely inaccurate, but misleading to say that my version of the Beeg Horseshoe says that Sim is a fundamental part of Nar. What I say is that either Sim does not exist alone in a vacuum, and all play is hybrid, or Sim does not exist at all. To the extent that Sim does exist, it's as a support level for the "realness" of the game world, a threshold below which the player is not willing to go.
          Yes, that's sort of what I meant.  Sorry -- I'm not using terms well.  As I understand it, if Sim exists at all, it's present in Nar and Gam, because it's a subsurface construct or process.  Right?
          Quote
          Because I don't think that Sim creates meaning in, if you'll pardon me, any meaningful sense. You have it here:
          Quote
          To put it directly, why do Sim games lend themselves to authoritarian GMs constructed as godlike?
          Because the meaning element has to be added by someone. In sim play, the players do not add meaning, any more than one adds mythic meaning through day to day living. In sim play, the player rejects the metagame, and, sans some other controlling factor, all you get is a facsimile of life in another place.
          But I think one does add meaning through day-to-day living.  What one does not as a rule do, however, is attempt to systematize that meaning.

          For example, let's suppose I notice an eagle up in the sky.  So what?  It's just a thing in the sky.  But if I can classify and identify it, as an eagle (and not an ant or a crow or a person), I have imputed some preliminary meaning to it.  If I can further classify it as sacred or an avatar of the sky god or something like that, I have imputed human meaning to it, in effect linked the eagle to me by a process of thought.  Without this, it's just a thing up in the sky.

          To take a more concretely recognizable example, consider ritual pollution.  Now that seems like something that we don't do very much, whereas of course it's quite big among tribal peoples.  But we do have this strong cultural sense of what you might call the "icky."  There are certain boundaries that we don't break, and there's really no practical reason not to.  For example, tell your wife or girlfriend or whoever about this one: some deer hunters, having realized that bucks are attracted by large mammalian pheromonal discharges associated with estrus, have discovered that if they take a used tampon or maxi-pad, carry it to the hunting site in a ziploc baggie, and then release it by rubbing the thing on a tree, it will attract bucks.  Now a very large number of women (especially) are going to react to this notion sharply: that's a boundary that shouldn't be crossed.  But why?  I mean, it's perfectly practical and all.  Well, because it just shouldn't.  That's what ritual pollution is: the imputation of a rigid cultural boundary not to be crossed onto natural objects and their place and order.  If you want another version of this, how about taking a dump in the garbage pail?  It's going to the dump anyway, so what's the problem?  Well, you just don't do that, that's all.  Now the point of these examples is that we have assigned a human meaningful framework to things that don't have such meanings.  Menstrual blood or crap or whatever are just things; they don't mean anything.  But we make them have a hell of a lot of meaning.  To add yet another example, how come sex is not a public activity?

          What mythic thought does is to take that sort of material and weave it together into a larger system.  In one sense, that's a way of explaining why these pollution concepts (for example) make sense and are indeed natural and necessary rules; this is what I mean about validating the cultural system.  In another, it's a way of generalizing the principles so that when we encounter a new situation or thing, we know how to deal with it on the fly.

          And so I think that Sim is mythic thought in this sense of explanation and generalization.  The basic objects and structures are handed to us by the setting, the source material, and the mechanics, but they're just isolated bits, pregnant with meaning perhaps but not woven together cohesively.  What we do in Sim play is weave it all together.  Thus the longer we play a campaign, the more everything hangs together and feels "real."
          Quote
          To the extent that you insist that all creation is, in fact, meaningful, you agree with me that all play of this sort is actually narrativism. This is why I come to Beeg Horseshoe from Ron's theory. When it comes down to it, narrativism is about players creating meaning of some sort from what I can tell.
          Well, no, because I think Nar is about players creating a particular sort of meaning, just as Gam is.
          Quote
          Here's where you and John Kim have always had a problem with the theory, because you rightly don't see any play by the players as being devoid of meaning. So all play that you, he, and I observe is narrativism to some extent. The only question is to what extent power is given to the players to do this in a somewhat metagame way, or to which they are required not to be storytellers, but merely the interpreters of the acts of characters inside the game.
          I don't get where the metagame thing comes into it.  On the one hand, there's my claim that this is the importation of higher-order constraints in Gam and Nar, constraints that do not come from within the game-world but from us as players deciding what sort of meanings we'd like to create.  On the other hand, you seem to disagree with this, so I'm a bit lost.
          Quote
          What I can see are thresholds for these things set at such levels that play of one player will still annoy play of another player. So the model still has predictive power just as it did before. And still, IMO, explains the problems of incoherent play. My "adjustement" to the model is only to get people to understand that narrativism never, ever does with less than complete plausibility. The only question is whether or not the players have powers that make them not only actors in the otherworld, but also "gods" like the GM.
          See to me, this is a red herring.  I think it's very common to think that Sim doesn't permit this kind of meta-manipulation because it's a violation of the game-world constraints.  From my perspective, that's backwards: Sim requires exactly this, but it needs to claim that the meta-manipulation is actually interior to the system.  That's because myth naturally tends to sprawl out and take over cultures and lives.  Sim wants desperately to claim that this isn't so, that the game-world is fixed and constrained and not the same as real life.  The thing is, all of this manipulation of structure and symbol is necessarily meta-manipulation or else it wouldn't be meaningful in any sense -- you wouldn't be saying or thinking anything but just doing what Walt calls zilchplay, kind of rolling along.  I think we're saying the same thing in opposed ways: I'm saying that Sim does construct meaning by using meta-manipulation, and you're saying that if that's so then it isn't Sim but Nar.  Ultimately that's a categorical definition difference I'm not sure we can get over, because you're asserting that meaning doesn't happen in Sim, whereas I think that if that's the case then Sim really doesn't exist at all because it's completely pointless -- which is of course why you say that all play is hybrid, and around and around.  So long as we can communicate despite this strong disagreement of category, I suppose it doesn't really matter, does it?
          Quote
          Gamism and narrativism can be completely as plausible as sim. Where they differ is in the maintenence of the illusion that the player is in-game, and that in-game world has some "real" existence. That is, as soon as a player starts making myth, he's no longer the character only, but a god as well. To the extent that this is obvious it may step over the sim threshold.
          Well, yes, I'll buy that.  But the thing is, people in tribal cultures create meaning through myth and don't become gods in the process.  So I'm not sure why when we do it suddenly that's a problem.
          Quote
          To put this all in another perspective, if we say that sim can create meaning, then what is it that nar does? Your argument is that it "textualizes" or makes more like literature the myth being created? Well, I simply don't see it that way, that's not my experience at all. Nar is about how obviously metagame the player's power is to create meaning.
          Ah, see now we're getting at the real heart of the problem.  For me, what Ron is talking about as Story Now is about story -- and he has this little definition which I agree is rather vague but to my mind seems clear enough in general terms:
          Quote from: Ron, in Story Now (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/25/)
          All role-playing necessarily produces a sequence of imaginary events. Go ahead and role-play, and write down what happened to the characters, where they went, and what they did. I'll call that event-summary the "transcript." But some transcripts have, as Pooh might put it, a "little something," specifically a theme: a judgmental point, perceivable as a certain charge they generate for the listener or reader. If a transcript has one (or rather, if it does that), I'll call it a story. ...
          • Establishing the issue's Explorative expressions in the game-world, "fixing" them into imaginary place.
          • Developing the issue as a source of continued conflict, perhaps changing any number of things about it, such as which side is being taken by a given character, or providing more depth to why the antagonistic side of the issue exists at all.
          • Resolving the issue through the decisions of the players of the protagonists, as well as various features and constraints of the circumstances.[/list:u]
          Now to my mind, what Ron is trying to get at here is a rough-and-ready sense of "story" that more or less fits the usual sense of a story in our culture.  It's got some sort of plot, it's about something, and something happens through conflict and comes to some kind of resolution.  If it's really a story by Ron's definition, it's not just one damn thing after another, but rather it has what I think is usually called narrative meaning: it's a story that goes somewhere and is about something we care about.

          Now this is not particularly the case with myth.  As you saw with the Bororo thing, that's a myth which I think Ron would classify as a transcript that doesn't also have a story.  So although we cannot tell from a transcript whether it was played Sim or Nar or Gam, we know that if the Bororo one was played Nar, they probably weren't very happy with it.  What I'd argue, though, is that the Bororo myth does have a lot of meaning – just not narrative meaning, which is to say that it's a myth but it isn't a story.  You can have both together, but they're independent.

          So what I'm saying about Nar is that Nar wants to create stories, and it does so in a mythic medium.  The thing is, this means that Nar can be perfectly successful if it doesn't create much in the way of myth so long as it does create story; I think it's most successful when it does both.  But Sim creates myth without regard for story; in some cases, of course, it may generate both, but that's not the point.  And what I think is most striking about this for me is that it explains a weird phenomenon about Sim, which is ouija-board play: Sim players often seem to want Story to happen but they don't want to do anything to make that happen.  It's just supposed to fall into their laps.  This is, I argue, because Sim is set up to create myth, not story, and if story happens through the process that's just icing on the cake; to manipulate or constrain the mythic thinking in order to produce story violates basic Sim presuppositions – but that's exactly what happens in Nar.
          Quote
          So I see you as shifting the GNS paradigm here in a way that's confusing. Separating meaning from how meaning is created vis a vis the metagame seems intuitive to me. Saying that they're both creation of meaning, but that one then goes on to make that meaning specialized in some way seems to be creating definitions that weren't there before, and, worse, lose GNS it's predictive powers.
          I don't see it that way, I'm afraid.  For example...
          Quote
          That is, the use of GNS is in predicting incoherence. If we go with your model, we now have to suppose that the players in sim somehow reject the "textual story" that's created by narrativism, because they want to create myth instead. Well, again, if that's the case, then all of the power that I've given to my players has been used to create myth, and my players are all sim. In fact, there are no players who play using narrativism that I've ever seen.
          First of all, the prediction of incoherence is only one purpose of GNS.  But beyond that, if your players have been creating stories, and they want to do so, then that's narrativism.  It seems to me that the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast only arises because so many people do want to create stories.  Who wants to create myths?  If a lot of folks did, it wouldn't be mostly dead as a form in our culture.  I think people usually want to create stories and tell stories and get their meanings at that narrative level.  That's narrativism.  Sim is, as Ron notes, a fringe interest; it's a recapitulation of a largely lost art, constrained in a weird and paradoxical manner, in order to generate layers of meaning that are explicitly formulated to be irrelevant outside of the game itself.  What the hell is the point of that?  I think pure Sim is extremely rare.
          Quote
          Again, this shows where you and John have a problem understanding narrativism, because you both assume it's something that you've never seen, when, in fact, you have. The people who claim to play narrativism don't sit around the table saying things like, "It would be really cool to end the story with a Faulkner-esqe twist, so let's try to maneuver things so that we can accomplish that." Making a protagonist out of a character merely means making him someone who creates meaning for the players. And nothing more than that.
          Setting John aside because I don't speak for him, I think you're entirely wrong here.  I mentioned in another thread running right now that I think the current game I'm in is straight-up Nar.  I think most of the games I've really loved have been Nar, and that that is why I liked them: I really liked having the events and so forth come together in an increasingly story-like fashion, and I went to some effort to help them go that way.  That's Nar, surely?  I think somehow you're reading all this stuff about myth as some kind of defense of why Sim is the "real thing".  No, not at all.  As far as I'm concerned, the basic problem with Sim is that it's trying to do something completely impossible.  Myth cannot be created in a box; it's pointless unless it has access to everything, because the whole point of myth is to totalize the system to account for everything in the universe through a vast harmony.  But Sim is precisely about myth in a box.  So either you have to let it out, and let it take over your life, in which case you get very strange subculture behaviors where people basically treat their games as real life and try desperately to pretend that their real lives are irrelevant and unimportant, or else you keep it firmly in a box and set yourself a completely impossible goal.  If you want to create myth, you have to let it totalize the universe.  Most sane people don't want to do this these days, for a lot of reasons, so I think Sim is playing with fire; they're playing at myth, which means they're not generating myth.  When they get strong glimpses of it, they're thrilled, but they don't know how to recapture that moment because what they're doing is so alien to them and so basically incoherent.  I think it makes a lot more sense to wake up, realize that myth's procedures have mostly shifted over into narratives and stories and so on, and go create some good meaningful stories.  Nar just seems a lot more healthy to me.
          Quote
          Where I agree with you and with what John has pointed out so many times before, is that RPGs are not literature, or other media. What they create is, in fact, more mythic than these things, from what I can tell.
          Yes, I think that's true.  But I also think that Nar and Gam harness that in a direction that is workable and coherent.  It's a smaller set of goals, but at least they can be achieved.  Sim, it seems to me, strives for Myth with a capital M, and I think that causes a lot of heartache.


          I'm going to get back to the whole heroquest/visionquest thing when I have time to think it through.  I think you're starting to move Gam more toward ritual activity, which makes good sense to me.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 14, 2004, 10:33:30 AM
          Quote from: Caldis
          Quote from: clehrich
          One solution is the cargo-cult, but Hainuwele is another.  Through myth, we think it through, and we come to a solution.  The gifts are shit (thus excreted), and not valuable, so we don't owe the Dutch anything.  And if we use the gifts for other purposes (such as trading with our neighbors), we can make them into yams (thus the planting of the body and its turning into yams) which do have value, therefore getting something for nothing.  The trick is thus to transform shit into food, and in order to do that we have to refuse direct relations with the shit-givers.
          My question is one of process.  When would the myth be created?  In this example you seem to be saying that the myth is created and used to help make the decision on how to use the Dutch trade goods.  That would seem to be narrativistic to me, using the created 'story' to make a point.
          Well, I guess to me this doesn't seem particularly narrativistic because the story itself isn't much of a story.  I mean, it doesn't seem to have much narrative meaning.  You get this chick born from a coconut, and then she shits trade-goods, and then we kill her and get yams.  Eh?  I don't think this is really what Story Now is about.  But at a deeper level of symbolic meaning, what Levi-Strauss calls mythic thought, there is a negotiation of the real world happening here, and that has meaning and implications.

          Where I think the problem is coming up is that in real myth, like this, the implications and sources are the whole culture, whereas in Sim we're doing myth in a constrained box, Ethan's terrarium.  Looked at from one end, Sim is more like pure myth because it doesn't necessarily generate story -- only systems of meaning.  Looked at from the other end, Nar is more like pure myth because it's not constrained and can get at meanings within our actual lives.  Real myth is both of these things.  The thing is, I don't really think we can do real myth anymore, because of a whole bunch of cultural and historical factors.  I think RPGs tap into mythic thought as a process, but I very much doubt that any game can really do myth in the pure sense.
          Quote
          On the flip side you've mentioned that two entirely different stories can be the same myth, "rotting lizards and exploding grandmothers".  It seems unlikely that both could have been used at the same time to make the decision so it would seem likely that they were created after the fact as an oral history.  This would seem simulationist to me, with only the gm knowing how the story works out and the players taking the part of the meaningful players in the story.  They are expected to act as the symbolic thing they represent, warrior, healer, scoundrel, vampire, etc.
          I don't quite follow the part about the GM and so on, but the clause I've underlined is precisely incorrect.  The thing that makes myths so goddamn difficult to understand is that both can be used at the same time, because to the natives it's obvious that these are the same thing.  Of course, each also slots into different other parts of the culture, but the core meaning relevant to the myth directly is identical: these are the same relation expressed in different terms.

          This is what always causes confusion among ethnographers, you see.  The natives think wey're stupid for not seeing that the lizards and the grandmother are the same, sort of like you might think someone a little dim or hard of hearing if you heard two different jazz riffs on some old standard and the guy couldn't see that they were basically the same thing.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 14, 2004, 10:44:45 AM
          Quote from: contracycle
          Quote from: Mike Holmes

          Simulationism - validation of the ritual space in which the myth is created (consecration)
          Apart from general agreement with your post, this looks very juicy to me.  I think it can be expanded somewhat to explain to the auteur-GM role as well; just as in most cases where an object or space is rendered sacred by some form of ritual specialist, one could see the game space being rendered 'live' by the game-specialist.
          Huh, interesting.  Myself, I'd say that Sim requires this "consecration" (nice term, Mike!) particularly strongly, but that such consecration is not the sole identifier of Sim.  We're mixing levels here: myth and ritual use many of the same processes, but I don't think they're the same thing.  Nevertheless, I'll buy that if (as in Sim) you need an especially firm consecration in order to keep your mythic work within boundaries, then it makes good sense to ascribe that power to an authority who can by fiat decide what is and is not within the guide-rails.  That frees us, the players, to think more freely and play with what we like in terms of systematic meanings, because we don't have to simultaneously think about this weird imposed constraint.  

          That makes very good sense, actually.  I think something just clicked for me.  Basically I've said in a couple other posts that Sim is bizarre and paradoxical, because it's trying to construct myth in a box -- but myth doesn't make sense if it doesn't take over everything because you lose the whole total system aspect that makes myth have a real purpose in the first place.  So how can we keep doing this and not realize that it's intrinsically incoherent?  Well, we make ourselves like the natives, in a sense, by allowing ourselves as players to take on and play with anything we want.  And we hand over the job of keeping this afloat, the impossible task of making the myth stay in a box, to some other guy.  That's a huge responsibility, and it requires constant policing.  So the GM becomes increasingly an auteur doing "welcome to my world" so that we can be freed to play in it.  If as in Nar we were willing to let ourselves grab anything from anywhere and make meaning out of it, we wouldn't really need this; we'd be telling stories together instead.  So the strong GM role thus keeps the ritualization, what you're calling the consecration, intact so that we don't have to recognize the incoherence of what we're doing.
          Quote
          And actually it occurs to me further that this insight and knowledge are themselves alien, possessed of an even greater super-legitimacy than that of the presiding officiant simply by virtue of existing as published work, as being From Afar, as being handed down by a Higher Power - the designer.  The GM is moses come down from the mountain.
          I don't know that I buy that one, but it's an interesting idea.  Any takers?
          Quote
          All of which makes the cargo-cult phenomenon of RPG seem inevitable.
          I don't get that.  Where do you see cargo-cult?
          Quote
          I'm not going to comment on the gamist angle just yet but I'm champing at the bit.
          I wish you would, though.  It's really bugging me.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 14, 2004, 11:10:24 AM
          Quote from: Mike Holmes
          Quote
          But if we have a clearer sense of what it is we're doing, by really delving deeply into mythic thought, we have a better chance of having our Sim games work actively (rather than what Ron calls "ouija board play," where you wait for "it" to happen).
          No, see, if we have a "clearer view" of what's happening, then we're playing narrativism. That's precisely what Ron is saying here. Without an intent to create meaning, none is created.
          I don't buy that.  It seems to me to imply that if we think about what we're doing, we're automatically doing Nar, that Sim is not self-aware.  I don't see why that should necessarily be the case.
          Quote
          Ethan, no, Sim isn't purer, it's not creating myth at all. That's what I'm trying to get at. Myth requires that the audience, the players in this case, recieve some sense of something like "place in the world" or the like. That's what I mean by "meaning" in this context - precisely what Myth is trying to get at. Which requires only creating the meaning, if you assume that the ritual space is already consecrated. That is, you can create myth with a low sim threshold (what would traditionally be called narrativism) as long as all of the participants agree that it's OK for players to do it in the visible metagame. Uh, call it "somewhat less sacredly" or something.
          Well, now wait a second.  I think once again we're mixing levels analytically.  As I said a post or two back, Nar is more like pure myth because it draws on and feeds back onto the total cultural system around it to make meanings for us in this world.  But Sim is more like pure myth because it imposes no constraints about how that works or what shape the meaning-construction should take.  If we're interested in creating meaning for our real lives, then Sim is not the best way to do it; if we're interested in formulating hideously complicated and intricate meaning-systems in part for the sheer hell of it and in part in order to generate a total sense of how all the symbols of the game-world hang together rigorously, then Sim is a better way, because it's not limited by narrative constraints.
          Quote
          Sim alone I say doesn't or only rarely exists. What's called sim is simply a high respect for the "in-gameness" of the characters, and does not reject completely the player creation of meaning. But to the extent that it doesn't reject this, it's hybrid narrativism.
          I'd agree with you that pure Sim is extremely rare, but I think you continue to construct a sense of "meaning" that is so large as to negate all possible subdivisions.  Narrativism it seems to me does have a narrower sense of what sorts of meanings and stories can be told.  It's an agenda, a plan of action, in which we make a concerted effort to create a particular kind of meanings in a particular type of way.  Simulationism releases that constraint entirely; it says that so long as the whole thing hangs together rigorously, all meanings are legitimate.  It doesn't matter a damn whether we tell a story.  The thing is, I think most people do want stories, which is why they get unhappy with Sim.

          I just think you're defining your way into a corner.  You're setting it up so that if there is any sort of meaning whatsoever, it's Nar.  Well, if that's the case, then is there no difference between a story and a myth?  Because I think there most definitely is.  If you look at the Bororo myth, that's not much of a story.  Same with Hainuwele.  The meanings of those myths lie at a different level and are expressed in a different fashion.  To lump all that together, call it meaning, and say, "Yes, that's Nar by definition because it has meaning" seems to me pointless; further, it denies the very real difference between myth and story.  What you're doing I think makes good formal sense, that is it is quite logical and cohesive, but it seems to me that the data (myth, story, literature, etc.) are against you: myth is strangely unlike these other forms, and it's a misreading to claim that this difference isn't there.

          To put it directly, I don't think that Narrativist gamers want to produce things like the Bororo myth or the Ceramese myth of Hainuwele.  Certainly that's not been my experience, and it seems very much at odds with what Nar Actual Play accounts are about.  MLwM, for example, imposes strong narrative constraints in order to tell stories about love and anguish and redemption and so on.  And what I see in Actual Play accounts is that this is what makes people happy about these Nar games.  What I don't see a lot of is people transcribing bizarre series of apparently meaningless events and explaining that actually, underneath it all, there was a weirder deep meaning about the reasons for not taking a crap in a garbage can.  I think that if that happened, Nar players would not be thrilled; it might be meaningful, but it's not what they're looking for.

          I do think that a number of Sim accounts set up as "great play" (and you don't see a lot of those, actually) really do sort of work that way.  If you think about Jay's very long post about his Tolkien game, what he emphasized was this amazing moment where all that meaning-creation suddenly coalesced into a story, but what seems to have been extra-exciting about this was that there were all these natural 20s flying around and such.  It sounded to me like there was a very thoroughly developed world of meaningful systems that all those players had created together over the years, and at a moment like this suddenly everything kind of "clicked" and made a story out of seemingly nothing.  To me, that's exactly what's so confused about Sim: it's basically really about the rest of the game, the parts where people are tooling around doing their thing and interacting and setting up all these complicated systems, so that whenever something happens you can slot it in and make some kind of coherent sense of it -- but without that particularly telling a story.  And then, in this case, the whole machine of bricolage got hooked up to particular bits and pieces and railroaded them into a resolution that they emphatically did not want, which was the death of some big character, Glorfindel or somebody.  This made something of a story, I suppose, but the main thing is that it proved conclusively that the system, the world of meanings that they had constructed, was indeed an operative and valid world, in the same way as the Hidatsa hunters "prove" their myth by actually going and getting some eagles.  At that moment, the myth stops being a complicated thought-experiment playing with meaning and becomes concrete reality.  And it sounds to me like Jay's group had that experience: they caught an eagle.  No wonder they were thrilled!  But I think if they had wanted to tell stories per se, i.e. play Nar, they would have been less excited about the fact that the system of meaning in a sense made the one character kill the other.

          Am I getting any clearer here?


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: TonyLB on December 14, 2004, 11:11:32 AM
          Quote from: clehrich
          One thing I could see coming out of this is in mechanics development.  Instead of working strictly on causality and "realism" sorts of issues, it might be worth trying to build mechanical models that guide bricolage.  This would allow one to construct myth sort of with a net, which helps in a society that's less familiar with the process as a basic activity.

          Make a thread for this (either in RPG Theory or in Indie Games, depending on whether you want to develop it for publishing) and I will be right there.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Mike Holmes on December 14, 2004, 11:14:43 AM
          All I can say, Chris, is that you're reading into Ron's statement a whole lotta stuff that isn't there. Ron has specifically said on more than one occassion that "Story Now" is merely the creation of meaning by the player at the moment it happens. It seems to me that all of the other constructs of literature or "story" are added on afterwards, making play like this, if it exists, a subset of the whole of narrativism.

          Sim is not about "classifying" or any of that. Exploration does that on a basic level before we ever get to sim or nar. Sim is just the appearance or lack of it, of metagame (or any other such "disbelief suspension" breaking thing). This is why in the 3D model, the only question is that of control of "theme". That is, who's making it.

          One purpose of GNS is in discovering GNS incoherence, or rather how to understand the issues so that you don't have a text that promotes such incoherence. It may do other things, too, but it has to do that, or it's not GNS anymore, given that the "mutual exclusivity" of the modes is what makes it a valid theory. Making it adjust to fit your view of it, so that it loses this capacity is, to me, essentially creating an entirely new model that addreses other issues entirely.

          Mike


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 14, 2004, 11:36:37 AM
          Quote from: Mike Holmes
          All I can say, Chris, is that you're reading into Ron's statement a whole lotta stuff that isn't there. Ron has specifically said on more than one occassion that "Story Now" is merely the creation of meaning by the player at the moment it happens. It seems to me that all of the other constructs of literature or "story" are added on afterwards, making play like this, if it exists, a subset of the whole of narrativism.
          I'm going to have to call for Ron to weigh in on this one, because I think you're misreading.  Somebody's not getting Ron -- maybe both of us -- and that's screwing up this whole conversation.
          Quote
          Sim is not about "classifying" or any of that. Exploration does that on a basic level before we ever get to sim or nar. Sim is just the appearance or lack of it, of metagame (or any other such "disbelief suspension" breaking thing). This is why in the 3D model, the only question is that of control of "theme". That is, who's making it.
          I'll buy that basic classification and construction of mythemes happens in Exploration, but it seems to me that the weaving of these things together into a completely cohesive and predictive system requires something more, some actual meaning-construction work to be done.  And I think one way of doing this is through story, and another is through myth, which I would ascribe to Nar and Sim, respectively.  But this again hinges on my understanding of what Nar meaning is -- and I need Ron's input on that one.
          Quote
          One purpose of GNS is in discovering GNS incoherence, or rather how to understand the issues so that you don't have a text that promotes such incoherence. It may do other things, too, but it has to do that, or it's not GNS anymore, given that the "mutual exclusivity" of the modes is what makes it a valid theory. Making it adjust to fit your view of it, so that it loses this capacity is, to me, essentially creating an entirely new model that addreses other issues entirely.
          While I don't have a problem formulating a totally new theory, I do think that the analysis of GNS incoherence works quite well under a mythic rubric.  

          By my reading, Sim incoherence is most likely to happen when you get a conflict about whose systematic constructions dominate a particular instance.  So for example, in Jay's Tolkien game, you'd have incoherence when it turns out that one player has been saving up special rolls so as to make the sequence of events not determinate from system but from his exterior choice to work toward a story-like resolution.  This asserts that the internal self-regulation of the system is less important than the shape of the final product, which is very much not a Sim claim.  I'd expect that in this case, the Sim players would see this as "cheating."

          Nar incoherence might happen when there is disagreement about what sorts of stories we want to tell, or which parts of the system are malleable and which aren't.

          But this is a weird way to do things, since incoherence isn't within one CA -- that's the point.  My point is just that I read these as very much distinct agendas, drawing on mythical thinking resources in quite different ways for quite different purposes.  This entails that when you have disagreements at this deep level, you get incoherence.

          Another way of seeing incoherence is within game design, of course.  And I see this all the time in Sim design; I keep harping on the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast because it seems to me emblematic of the Sim problem.  Basically since Sim is really about myth, not story, truly coherent Sim design should either toss out story entirely or suggest that it's not very helpful except under certain constrained circumstances.  But what happens is that people aren't very clear on myth as distinct from story, so they think they're going to tell stories, but they're going to do so with total control from the GM and complete freedom for the players and it's all going to magically fall together if they all just play by the rules and nobody cheats to make it so.  That is a fundamental Sim incoherence, a misunderstanding of what one is doing.  If you want these effects, go with Nar.  If you want this process, go with Sim.  But to have it both ways will happen very rarely, if ever, and should be taken as a fascinating an exceptional event that cannot be repeated or predicted.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Caldis on December 14, 2004, 03:49:52 PM
          Quote from: clehrich
          Well, I guess to me this doesn't seem particularly narrativistic because the story itself isn't much of a story.  I mean, it doesn't seem to have much narrative meaning.  You get this chick born from a coconut, and then she shits trade-goods, and then we kill her and get yams.  Eh?  I don't think this is really what Story Now is about.  But at a deeper level of symbolic meaning, what Levi-Strauss calls mythic thought, there is a negotiation of the real world happening here, and that has meaning and implications.


          It may not be much as a story but it is an arguement for how the people should act.  So if at the point the Dutch showed up and offered the trade goods someone stood up and created this story to try and influence the other tribesmen, it would be like narrativism.  They are trying to give the story a moral meaning, teaching others on what is the correct action.

          Quote

          Quote from: Caldis
          On the flip side you've mentioned that two entirely different stories can be the same myth, "rotting lizards and exploding grandmothers".  It seems unlikely that both could have been used at the same time to make the decision so it would seem likely that they were created after the fact as an oral history.  This would seem simulationist to me, with only the gm knowing how the story works out and the players taking the part of the meaningful players in the story.  They are expected to act as the symbolic thing they represent, warrior, healer, scoundrel, vampire, etc.
          I don't quite follow the part about the GM and so on, but the clause I've underlined is precisely incorrect.  The thing that makes myths so goddamn difficult to understand is that both can be used at the same time, because to the natives it's obvious that these are the same thing.  Of course, each also slots into different other parts of the culture, but the core meaning relevant to the myth directly is identical: these are the same relation expressed in different terms.


          But both would not be created at the same time is what I was getting at.  They both may tell the same story but they are kept as oral history, retellings of what happened without value judgement.  They were not both brought forward at some tribal meeting as arguements on how to treat the situation.  They are artistic endeavours to retell what happened in an interesting way unlike the greek myths that told stories designed to highlight cultural beliefs like valour and courage and show the dangers of pride and arrogance.  Those are more like narrativism.

          The parallels that I see with simulationism is that players take on characters that act as the symbolic elements in the myths.  They become the icons that stand for something else, brave warriors, wizards, healers.  Some games develop huge source books to detail what it is the characters stand for, clan books for vampire.  The players try and accurately portray the meaning of the character as initially designed.  The gm is the real myth maker and it's his job to bring in symbolic elements such as monsters and bandits in such a way as to create the artistic version of what really happened.  Of course there is no what really happened, it's all imaginary, in the gm's mind and it tells a real 'story' at his whim.  Of course the problem becomes if peoples ideas of what certain things mean doesnt mesh with the others then no meaningful tale can be told.

          My parallels may be off but the point I was trying to bring up and that I feel is still causing a lot of confusion here is that the stories themselves are not meant as tools to make a meaningful statement.  The elements within them have meaning and together they tell what happened but they aren't intrinsically designed to say whether this was good or bad.  They are artistic documentaries, oral histories.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 14, 2004, 04:15:33 PM
          Quote from: Caldis
          It may not be much as a story but it is an arguement for how the people should act.  So if at the point the Dutch showed up and offered the trade goods someone stood up and created this story to try and influence the other tribesmen, it would be like narrativism.  They are trying to give the story a moral meaning, teaching others on what is the correct action.
          Yes, that makes sense to me, I guess.  My sense is that people don't do this, i.e. get up and create myths to make arguments quite that way, but it's a fine distinction that's probably not worth getting into here.
          Quote
          But both would not be created at the same time is what I was getting at.  They both may tell the same story but they are kept as oral history, retellings of what happened without value judgement.  They were not both brought forward at some tribal meeting as arguements on how to treat the situation.  They are artistic endeavours to retell what happened in an interesting way unlike the greek myths that told stories designed to highlight cultural beliefs like valour and courage and show the dangers of pride and arrogance.  Those are more like narrativism.
          Yes, and furthermore they link up one set of circumstances with a whole bunch of other cultural systems so that it all hangs together.  Unlike Greek myths, as you say.
          Quote
          The parallels that I see with simulationism is that players take on characters that act as the symbolic elements in the myths.  ... The players try and accurately portray the meaning of the character as initially designed.  The gm is the real myth maker and it's his job to bring in symbolic elements such as monsters and bandits in such a way as to create the artistic version of what really happened.  Of course there is no what really happened, it's all imaginary, in the gm's mind and it tells a real 'story' at his whim.  Of course the problem becomes if peoples ideas of what certain things mean doesnt mesh with the others then no meaningful tale can be told.
          Well, I don't think this division is intrinsic.  It's usually how it gets done, but I don't see any reason in principle that players cannot do all the work.  Indeed, I think mostly they do that anyway by responding to all this stuff the GM throws at them.  But they may think of it as the GM's story, which is an interesting issue right there.
          Quote
          My parallels may be off but the point I was trying to bring up and that I feel is still causing a lot of confusion here is that the stories themselves are not meant as tools to make a meaningful statement.  The elements within them have meaning and together they tell what happened but they aren't intrinsically designed to say whether this was good or bad.  They are artistic documentaries, oral histories.
          If those phrases work for you, I'm cool with them.  I'd just call that myth and have done, but whatever.  But it does seem to me that the implication of your argument is that Nar, unlike Sim, really does try to construct stories that make meaningful statements.  In Sim, it's about making the elements have meaning and link up cohesively.  And I don't see that as the same thing.  I guess you might say that I see it as a distinction between meaningful statement (= story = Nar) and system of meaning (= myth = Sim).  It seems to me that a story in the Nar sense has to say something; a myth (or a Sim construct) has to be its own meaning and (part of) a system of meaning; in real myth, the two end up going together because we want to put the meaning we've discovered into practice, but this is largely denied in Sim because of Ethan's terrarium, or the consecration, or what have you: the wall between in-game and out-of-game is conceived as impermeable.

          Are we on the same page, or am I misreading you?  Sorry, I'm just a little lost.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: clehrich on December 14, 2004, 05:31:24 PM
          Summary

          Okay, so let me see if I can sort of wrap up the current GNS debate and see where we are.  It's time to evaluate whether this thread should keep going, whether we are getting somewhere, or whether we've started to slip into round-and-round stuff.  I do think we're getting somewhere, but I think we're starting to get sidetracked.  My hope is that we'll all take a breather and think about it for a day or so, then come on back and go for the next big push.  I'm not the moderator or anything, but I'm planning to keep quiet for about 48 hours on this thread, starting now.

          I started this all off by talking about Nar and text (remember text?), and I don't think I ever made particularly clear what I was on about.  I still think that some of Shklovsky's terms might be useful, but I'm going to set that aside.  Then we got on to Sim and myth, which for me was intended largely as a contrast from Nar and text.  And we've been hammering at myth ever since.

          So basically here's where I think I stand at the moment, and then maybe you guys can tell me where you all stand, and we'll take it from there.

          On the basic GNS divisions, I think Mike and I are not going to agree, so I'm just going to lay out where I stand and Mike, you take it how you will.  If we're pushing for mutual clarity, that's cool, but if our definitions are just not going to meet in the middle we've gotta pass on that one.

          Narrativism and Story

          Narrativism, Story Now, is easy-peasy.  We tell stories all the time, we read them, watch them on TV or at the movies, and so on.  We've grown up with them.  I don't think Story Now means some peculiar sense of Story, but rather the exact same ordinary off-the-cuff sense that some Joe walking down the street would mean.  So if said, "Hey, you saw Terminator, how'd you like the story?" I would expect him to answer me in exactly the same sort of sense as Story is meant in Narrativism.  You know, plot and character and stuff happening that leads up to some kind of climax and so on.  And stories grip us, maybe because we care about the characters, or maybe because the issues seem important, or whatever.  But at any rate, it's a totally normal thing.  RPG discourse has gotten rather wound about this, for a lot of complicated historical reasons, but at base there is nothing peculiar whatsoever about Narrativism.  It's just playing a game such that you tell stories with it.

          Now where I was going about text is just that these narrative forms I think of as primarily textual, mostly for historical reasons.  And I think syuzhet and fabula are useful concepts to analyze that with.  But I think that at this point going back to the problem of text and orality would just confuse matters; I'll do my deconstructive take on all this some other time, OK?  (And, no, before you start, I haven't even gestured in that direction here.)

          Simulationism and Myth

          Simulationism, however, is extremely peculiar.  We just don't really have anything quite like it in our culture these days.  It's very much rooted in mythic thought, which died out quite a while back, largely with the advent of writing.  Myths aren't at a surface narrative level necessarily about anything, and what they seem to be about often isn't what they're really about.  It seems like the myth of the wolverine marrying our distant ancestor and teaching us how to kill eagles maybe sort of means something as a story, but really it's not about that at all.  It's about how wolverines are symbolically analogous to the hunter going after an eagle in a precise ritual hunt.  It's a way of explaining how eagle hunting works, and why it has to work that way, and also of influencing the hunt to make it actually work practically.  None of which is apparent from the story-level content of the myth.

          The musical analogy is one of Lévi-Strauss's many attempts to force us to recognize just how strange all this is – and yet how familiar.  To us, it's very strange to talk about a narrative form as though it were a fugue, because it seems like it should matter what exactly we say, word by word.  But it doesn't matter a damn.  All that matters is that the wolverine and the eagle and the rabbit and the blood and the pit all line up and make a good chord progression.  The rest is largely incidental.  This is why Lévi-Strauss insists on calling this stuff "savage": he never wants you to lose sight of the alienness of all this.  Because if you do lose sight of that, you start turning the myths into stories (à la Narrativism) and transforming what they do into what we do.  You're in effect trying to tame them, to take their myths and bring them home and tidy them up and make them not dangerous or threatening or freaky any more.  They're just a bunch of silly tales told by a bunch of foolish primitives.  But Lévi-Strauss is trying to say that these things are nothing of the kind: they're a sophisticated kind of philosophical work that is immensely difficult and demands our intellectual respect.  The fact that some myths are also things we can respect aesthetically, even without a lot of experience, just proves the genius of the savage mind.

          Now I maintain that Sim is quite close to this central conception of myth.  The problem is that we're really not very good at it, and we keep wandering off the mark.  So a number of factors get brought into Sim play to keep us focused.  These can and should be understood in ritual terms, as a number of you rightly pointed out.  And they tend to lead to such things as authoritarian GM's, intricate and overdetermined rules systems, enormously complicated background worlds, and so forth.  I think there's a great deal more to be said about this, particularly with respect to mechanics, but we've barely started that conversation – which is a pity in part because I'm convinced that this is where somebody's going to crack open Gamism.

          Mytheme and Code

          As I try to put all that together, I find myself staring at a problem we raised some pages back, which is what mythemes are.  Caldis notes that PCs can be mythemes, and while I think that makes sense I think they're a somewhat unusual example.  I'd tend to think that any recurrent object or object-type would be a mytheme, like a gold piece, a sword, a goblin, a dungeon, a 10x10 room, and so on.  The trick is that these things mean something a lot larger than themselves, because they are embedded in systems, especially mechanical ones but also historical ones.  So for example a gold piece is also worth 1 x.p., which because we know it is relevant.  A dungeon and a 10x10 room have a lot of historical weight: they're parts of the classic history of our art form, and so when we walk into a 10x10 room we think,"Oh, I know where we are," even if of course we don't.  We just associate a lot of things with it.  How long is the wooden pole with probe for traps with?  10', obviously.  Paladin?  "Detects evil! <ha ha ha>" All of this is incoherent nonsense to any normal person, but to a long-time gamer this stuff is like a vast network of in-jokes and inside meanings.  And in hard-core Sim, the point is to develop exactly that network so strongly and cohesively that every damn thing that happens in-game is a signal, a code, that can be interpreted by the culture (that's us, around the table) to have enormous meaning and significance.  So what you want is to ride around that bluff: "You see a tall, armored man on a white horse."  "Oh shit!  Does he cast any shadow?"  "No."  "Oh my god, it's HIM!!"  Now none of this means anything to anyone but the crew of the game, but to them, that's meaning.  And it's not a story – it's just a thing, a mytheme.  A story might, obviously, stand behind it, or be made out of it, but it's just a thing.  In Sim, that's where meaning really happens, just like in myth.

          To put it directly, I'd contrast story with code.  I was re-reading some Lévi-Strauss trying to figure out what we're all talking about, and I noticed that distinction.  He doesn't always stick to it, but for our purposes I think it's very useful.  Basically if Nar is Story Now, Sim is Code Now.  If that helps, maybe?

          Mechanics and Structure

          The next question would be what the structures are, and this seems to me the crucial and insanely difficult problem.  Certainly mechanics are extremely important structures, but so are a number of other factors about the way we play, the way we talk, and so forth.  And I think that the fact that so much of this procedure is so damn difficult for us encourages us to want rigidity and rigor in our structures – which prompts the development of increasingly determinate mechanics.  Another point about this is that it divorces the mythic structures from the ritual structures; that is, if the GM authority is a way of keeping our free play within constrained bounds, that's a ritual constraint, but the structures of how combats work or whatever should be structures operative at the mythic level.  In order to keep those apart, we formulate rules-systems that we at least claim to interpret as determinate and not up to the GM – he just interprets and arbitrates.  So his job is to keep the ritual boundary impermeable; the mechanics' job is to provide us with the structures we need to do our myth-telling.  But I really think this is the biggest and hairiest problem to crack: how precisely do mechanics really work to formulate and manipulate mythemes to construct coded meanings?  The Lumpley Principle tells us that they do, and that everything that happens in negotiation is part of mechanics or system, but how precisely that works is I think quite another matter.

          GNS and Meaning

          On the broader GNS question, I think that there has been a confusion of different kinds of meaning.  I think it is certainly true that Nar-style stories have meaning (story), and that myths have meaning (code), but I maintain that these are not the same thing.  To assert that they are is to claim, as did early scholars of myth, that the natives are just bad story-tellers.  They tell these incoherent and confused stories, because they're stupid and aesthetically primitive.  Because if what you want is story-meaning, you're not going to be happy with a lot of myths.  But if you accept that myth really works at a different level, and that it can only really be judged at that level, then suddenly you're talking about something very different from story.  And to my mind, that entails that Nar and Sim are really not at all the same thing, although of course they have common roots and lots of overlaps in actual practice.

          A final point is that I maintain that Nar is a functional and reasonable approach to dealing with mythic material in modern times.  You do much the same work, but you use it to tell a story, which is basically what Aeschylus or Shakespeare or whoever did.  That makes good sense to me.  But Sim is basically impossible, as got discussed in Sim-Diceless Thread Search (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=12838) some weeks back.  What I mean by this, in terms of myth, is that we can't do myth like this.  Myth doesn't work like this.  It can't be constrained, and it can't be done on the fly without a cultural "net" to bounce off of, and it can't have someone deciding by personal fiat whether it's OK or not.  Myth in a box isn't myth; it's messing about.  But I think that Sim wants to do myth, and I think that's in a sense a noble goal.  Unfortunately, I think it's also one doomed to failure.

          Still Hanging Fire

          Where does Gamism come in, anyway?  I think it's all about structure instead of objects, but I'm really no further forward on that one.  Contracycle?  You still champing?  C'mon man, I'm waiting with bated breath!


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Caldis on December 14, 2004, 09:14:55 PM
          Quote from: clehrich
          Are we on the same page, or am I misreading you?  Sorry, I'm just a little lost.


          Yup. Same page.  My inquiry was an attempt to get clarity on how myth worked, you've answered that and it is as I initially assumed very different from narrativism.  I think you've covered this fairly well in your summary so at this point I have nothing else to add, just a lot to re-read and think over.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Michael Brazier on December 15, 2004, 02:41:34 AM
          This is somewhat late, and the central discussion is clearly winding up, but nonetheless ...

          Quote from: clehrich
          Quote from: Michael Brazier
          If there is no invention, no work of construction, involved in an endeavor, its result cannot, I think, be called "art".  And in an inquiry, no matter what medium or form one uses, one wants as little invention as possible.  Any structure in the final product that is not an image of the thing one was examining, is a mistake.  So, if myth is an inquiry in narrative, it isn't art, because inquiry in general should not be art; it's a category error to judge inquiry as if it were art.  
          As in the Michelangelo example, it really depends on what you mean by "invention"; he certainly invented something new, but not a single element in the Pieta is new.  As to inquiry, I don't know why we wouldn't want invention in any medium; surely the whole point of inquiry is to find something new?


          No, the point of an enquiry is to find something we didn't already know.  What we find is new only to us.  What we make is new absolutely; if not for us it would not exist.  Michelangelo did not find his Pieta, he made it; he was, to be sure, guided by previous artists' pietas, but if he had not chosen to attempt that subject the Pieta would not exist.

          Quote from: clehrich
          If you mean that we don't want invention but rather discovery, I'm not at all convinced that these are completely at odds; Einstein's discovery of relativity certainly also had an element of invention, of creating something new.


          Not at all.  Einstein developed special relativity from two observed facts: from within a closed system one can't tell how fast or which way the system as a whole is moving; and, light moves at a uniform finite speed, whatever its direction.  Special relativity is a pattern, expressed as a mathematical equation, which accounts for these facts; it's the result of an enquiry, a thing found, not a thing Einstein made.  Which reminds me:

          Quote from: clehrich
          Scientific work starts with rules, theory, and whatnot, moves down to things in the actual world, and then comes back up to more theory. [...] what makes scientific explanation really valuable, its ultimate criterion of interest, is the implications for a larger range of questions. This isn't about an explanation's validity, which just has to do with the explanation of the thing itself, but of its value, which is the implications for more theory.


          This is not true.  Scientific work starts from the concrete facts, things in the real world, and builds up from there to theories, rules, and principles.  The criterion of interest for a scientific explanation is its implications for things in the real world, not for its influence on other theories.  The cycle starts with facts and returns to facts.  A real scientist is what Levi-Strauss calls a bricoleur, never an ingenieur:

          Quote from: clehrich
          mythic thought [...] starts with things, moves up to theory and rules, and then moves back to things in the end. So the validity of the myth, we might say, is again the adequation of theory to object. But the larger value, which is mostly aesthetic rather than practical, is the other things manipulated in the process. The goal isn't, you might say, to explain anything (since the whole process presumes that explanation is possible without significant change to the system) but to connect things satisfyingly.


          The real differences between a modern scientist and a mythmaker are, that the scientist (being literate) has access to far more facts than the mythmaker; and that (being educated) he knows that cosmological systems that were wholly adequate to the known facts have come to grief on new data, and therefore cannot presume that explanation is possible without significant changes to his present system of thought.  The basic agenda of mythic thought and scientific work is identical: the "adequation of theory to object".

          Quote from: clehrich
          Quote from: Michael Brazier
          Also, in what way -- other than the difference of medium -- does Sim differ from a play of Oscar Wilde?  Or a Marx Brothers film, another of my examples?
          On Oscar Wilde, the primary difference it seems to me is that myth is not art for art's sake; it's art that is highly functional, and for which in fact some of the aesthetic standards are functional ones.  As to the Marx Brothers, I'm not quite sure what you mean to point to with the example; again, my sense is that those films are pretty much entertainment (art) for its own sake, whereas myths have a deep functional dimension.


          You answered the wrong question.  How myth differs from "art for art's sake" is obvious; what I asked you was, how Simulationism differs from "art for art's sake".  For I'm not at all convinced that Sim is about creating myth -- on Levi-Strauss' account it can't possibly be about that.  I am a complete amateur in this field, but it seems to me that any theory of the motives behind Sim has to be parallel, or cognate, to a theory of the motives for composing and experiencing "entertainments" in other media.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Mike Holmes on December 15, 2004, 06:26:10 AM
          It's interesting that I once said to Greg Stafford that Science was simply another religion, and he corrected me. Science answers "What?" and religions answer "Why?"

          Science can never help us explain our place in the universe - it doesn't even try. That doesn't make it pointless; it makes it something else.

          Mike


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: contracycle on December 15, 2004, 06:50:41 AM
          Hmm, I may have given the false impression that I had lots to say, when what I mean rather is that I have a lot of nebulous things that have not crystallised and I am looking forward to others input.

          But there are some thoughts to raise.  Firstly I recall the explicit bounding that occurs in games - the chess board is finite, we draw lines around the football pitch.  We mark out spaces and attribute significance to those spaces in accordance with a formal system.

          So yes I am interested in structure, although it might be better to discuss process rather than structure, because the hallmark of games are that they are venues for Doing, rather than appreciating.


          Title: On RPGs and Text [LONG]
          Post by: Ron Edwards on December 15, 2004, 08:05:18 AM
          Hello.

          Thread is closed.

          Sub-topics should be defined in new threads.

          Best,
          Ron