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Author Topic: An understanding of GNS  (Read 5073 times)
Gordon C. Landis
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« on: May 31, 2001, 05:10:00 PM »

OK, I want to run through what I've learned/decided as a result of some of the semi-recent discussion here and on GO, especially as regards Story and GNS, and add a question to the end.  Three reasons for writing/posting this: one, it'll help solidify the concepts for myself; two, I'd like people to "correct" me if they feel I'm just not on the right/same page regarding GNS; and three, there just might be others out there with thought processes enough like mine (please? :smile:) that they'll find this helpful in cementing THEIR understanding.  Oh, and to see if there are answers to that one question.

So, Narrative-focused RPGs could be seen as a response to the question "If what we really enjoy about RPGs is the story, why are we stuck using so many elements that get in the way of a good story?"  What naturally arises as a result is the realization that story might NOT be what is really key to the RPG experience for some people, so we get G and S (at least, that's where this model has brought us.  I leave debate as to whether there should be more/other legs out of this particular discussion).  Where I used to get stuck is that I (who started with OD&D back in junior high in the late 70's, and thus obviously have spent many years playing NON-narrativist RPGs) pretty much always had a focus on story - heck, even in old SPI wargames I'd find/add story elements.

I got unstuck in two ways.  First with the clarification that N is specifically about all the participants CREATING a story, and then with the realization that GNS isn't saying that a G or an S game isn't AT ALL about story (nor even that it isn't about creating a story).  It isn't even saying that an N game can't be concerned about challenges or faithful and engaging involvement in a modeled environment - it is just saying that when push comes to shove, and a decsion has to be made (either as you design a game or as you play/decide what to play) about which principle to honor . . . which do you pick?

Yes, you may want to create a cool story in your Blue Planet game, but when it comes down to it, the S-focus would tell you to ask first "is this true to the sim?".  If you start asking FIRST and PRIMARILY about creating a story in the Blue Planet world, you may well end up frustrated.  That doesn't mean you can't have a story emerge from the game, nor even that you can't allow story-based decisions to enter into things.  Even story creation, from the players, in a very N way, can happen (oh, hvaing the GM change things when a a player says "man, the Orca dying 'cause the bare wire fell in the water and shocked him ruins my Moby Dick-like plans to have him chomp off the villian's leg.  Let's fix it so that . . . ").  But the system isn't really set up to help you there, and the S-attitude generally sees such things as "cheating".  If you want a story out of your Blue Panet game, and fail to "throw out" a whole bunch of S-focused stuff it comes with, you'll have to accept that at some point story will lose out to S.  In N, story NEVER has to lose out - G or S (to the extent you include and/or are worried about them) will.

Taking another angle - I believe Ron has said that "System does matter" is as much about "system can get in the way of a particular GNS desire" as it is "system can help support your particualr GNS desire".  This I also found very helpful, as it is more "intuitive" for some reason - we've all been annoyed by systems at some point.

Now, the question . . . I'm still a little attached to the idea that some gamers (myself among them) really, authentically want their stories to emerge from some G or S elements.  Understanding that this always means a sacrifice of "pure" story concern, if you really just find that "too much" hands on involvement in story creation lessens the "feel" of the story for you and your group . . . is there some form of story-focused G or S gaming possible within the GNS model?

[I had written some thoughts related to  Fortune-in-the-middle that kinda built from this story-focused G or S notion, but before I actually posted 'em, I realized they may be unrelated.  I'll post that seperately . . . I guess it'll fit in 201]

Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2001, 05:48:00 PM »

Quote

Now, the question . . . I'm still a little attached to the idea that some gamers (myself among them) really, authentically want their stories to emerge from some G or S elements. Understanding that this always means a sacrifice of "pure" story concern, if you really just find that "too much" hands on involvement in story creation lessens the "feel" of the story for you and your group . . . is there some form of story-focused G or S gaming possible within the GNS model?


Excellent question! I admit I'm not so interested if it's possible within the model - if it isn't the model needs to changing is all; but I think the model has always carried with it the idea that GNS represent apexes of a triangular space that bounds games and play styles and user desires, not that they represent the precise three points from which all games, play styles and user desires must pick one. There are purist simulationist gamers, wholly gamist gamers and absolutely narrative gamers, but there are also lots of gamers with mixed desires.

But leave the gaming model aside for a minute, and consider real stories arising from real "simulationist" concerns. This is nothing more than a fair characterization of any number of literary revolutions. It's a recurring theme in literary history. The novel as we know it gets born this way. 19th-century naturalism is Crane et al sacrificing shapeliness and narrative convention to material drawn from the world around them. Hammett comes along and wants to write murder stories about real people who behave in plausible ways and have concerns recognizable from life. Deighton and LeCarre rescue the spy story from James Bond by putting the reality of the bureaucracy and venality that characterizes cold war intelligence at the center of their work. Stylistically, Deighton in particular makes a thoroughgoing use of anticlimax in his early books. Every hundred years like clockwork poets decide that what poetry needs is more of a connection with the way real people talk.

These examples are all drawn from mimetic fiction and most gaming involves fantastic settings, but the analogy seems pretty clear. (And there have been comparable revolutions in the history of sf.) Aside from a very few genres, myth and fairy tale particularly, literature tends to be best served by a strong grounding in what RPers think of as simulation. Ignoring a certain integrity of setting and character is how books get thrown across the room.

Now gamism would be a whole other argument that on the fictional side would have to reference authors like Georges Perec and - a bunch of frogs actually. The only "gamist" author I particularly respond to is Borges, though he certainly proved that great stories can arrive from what I think we could fairly call "gamist ideas." But wandering back to poetry again, a sonnet is a kind of game, as is any formal poem, and its players have managed some magnificent things, including some great stories.

"Sorcerer and Soul" draws heavily on a very "simulationist" literary tradition. That is not a weakness.

For about one season I thought about getting into X-Files. Then there was an episode where Scully was summoned to testify before a Congressional subcommittee, and showed up without a lawyer. At that point I thought, okay fellas, if you don't care, I can't care either. And that was it for me and X-Files.

Best,


Jim
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greyorm
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« Reply #2 on: June 01, 2001, 11:39:00 AM »

Gordon, I admit I'm on the same page with you, and can understand your question and understanding exactly...yet what bothers me, and bothers me about my own understanding as well, is that one can run a narrative game without 'fudging' reality or railroading the plot so things happen that you WANT to happen (ie: the Orca must survive or my plans are ruined!)

So, then, what does Narrative mean?
Obviously, we're missing or assuming something in the definition.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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« Reply #3 on: June 01, 2001, 11:52:00 AM »

Raven,

You've confused me this time.

"one can run a narrative game without 'fudging' reality or railroading the plot so things happen that you WANT to happen (ie: the Orca must survive or my plans are ruined!)"

I don't understand a word of that. Can you break it up into a point-by-point? Could you relate it to the concept of Narrativism?

I want to express my absolute commitment to the idea that Narrativism NEVER railroads plot. I expect this statement to be misunderstood in a wide variety of ways, but it might as well be the foundational idea for discussion.

It is good to remember that "narrative" and Narrativism are not synonyms.

It might help if "narrative" were recalled for its actual, solid, not-to-be-denied definition: a protagonist faces a conflict, the conflict is resolved, audience members experience a commitment and reaction to these things. Narrativism, then, becomes the mode of role-playing in which these things are GENERATED and CARRIED OUT.

Narrativist play is all about NOT dictating these things, but rather providing all the necessary components such that role-playing will generate them.

Therefore railroading (going by a very strict definition of this term) by definition violates Narrativism. It removes the story-generating power from the GROUP INTERACTION (in which the GM plays a specific role) and into GM DICTATION.

On the other hand, railroading DOES work very nicely if the narrative is being PROVIDED for the players via the GM. This is the mode found in many metaplot-based games, as well as in games where the GM has a personal storyline he is simply imparting to the players and letting them play a minor role in. This is narrative, yes, but it is not Narrativist play.

Best,
Ron
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #4 on: June 01, 2001, 11:52:00 AM »

I'm not saying this is right, but just a thought that popped into my head:

Perhaps Narrativism involves focus on the players creating a story, with the GM helping to focus that story, while in Gamist and Simulationist role-playing (which both, in order to be role-playing games, must still include a story), the story is primarily created by the GM with players taking on roles in that story, but not driving direction.

[Edit: Of course Ron and I posted at the same time and now I merely echo a lot of what he said. Urg.]

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[ This Message was edited by: Clinton R Nixon on 2001-06-01 15:53 ]
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Clinton R. Nixon
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greyorm
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« Reply #5 on: June 01, 2001, 02:24:00 PM »

Quote

"one can run a narrative game without 'fudging' reality or railroading the plot so things happen that you WANT to happen (ie: the Orca must survive or my plans are ruined!)"

I don't understand a word of that. Can you break it up into a point-by-point? Could you relate it to the concept of Narrativism?


Well, Gordon had stated that he felt Narrative play was served by fudging in-game events to achieve the outcomes or plans you as GM had desired to occur.

(in rereading his post, I believe I misread him...small children screaming in your ear will do that)

That is, Gordon said
Quote

the GM change things when a a player says "man, the Orca dying 'cause the bare wire fell in the water and shocked him ruins my Moby Dick-like plans to have him chomp off the villian's leg. Let's fix it so that..."

and I took it (incorrectly?) as an example of his understanding of the concerns or methods of Narrativism.

I responded to this by saying that according to my knowledge, a Narrative game did not alter things at whim to fit preconceived plotlines or events you desired ("The villan must appear at 5 o'clock exactly!" or "The Orca must survive to serve my Moby Dick plot!").

Does that make more sense, or am I still confusing you?

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[ This Message was edited by: greyorm on 2001-06-01 18:26 ]
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #6 on: June 01, 2001, 04:16:00 PM »

Quote

Well, Gordon had stated that he felt Narrative play was served by fudging in-game events to achieve the outcomes or plans you as GM had desired to occur.

(in rereading his post, I believe I misread him...small children screaming in your ear will do that)

That is, Gordon said
Quote

the GM change things when a a player says "man, the Orca dying 'cause the bare wire fell in the water and shocked him ruins my Moby Dick-like plans to have him chomp off the villian's leg. Let's fix it so that..."

and I took it (incorrectly?) as an example of his understanding of the concerns or methods of Narrativism.



(big N-Narrative and little-n-narrative used intentionally in this response . . . )
Yes, I think you took it incorrectly . . . er  . . . you're right that I - oh hell:

What I meant by the Orca/Moby Dick thing is that in a NON-Narrativist game you can achieve some narrative-like (even collaborationist narrative creation) effects by GM fiat/allowance.  You may even have an understanding amongst your group that such things are occasionally allowed because they make the story better.  But that probablly isn't enough to support a claim that "we're Narrativists" or "this game is Narrativist".  You sometimes make allowances - there's still "something else" (Game-challenge, Sim-experience) that's the REAL key factor.

And perhaps that leads to another phrasing of my question - at what point would "allowances" for story within a Sim- or Game- oriented RPG change the label from Sim or Game to Narrative?  Practically speaking, most people I game with (and even myself, to some extent) are really attached to certain facets of Sim and/or Game play - can we keep 'em, and still get all the cool story benefits that Narratvist play offers?  Or do we really have to just give 'em up?

Hope that's clearer,

Gordon C. Landis

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Logan
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« Reply #7 on: June 01, 2001, 04:35:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-06-01 20:16, Gordon C. Landis wrote:

And perhaps that leads to another phrasing of my question - at what point would "allowances" for story within a Sim- or Game- oriented RPG change the label from Sim or Game to Narrative?  Practically speaking, most people I game with (and even myself, to some extent) are really attached to certain facets of Sim and/or Game play - can we keep 'em, and still get all the cool story benefits that Narratvist play offers?  Or do we really have to just give 'em up?

Gordon C. Landis


Seems to me, that's the sort of thing that gets determined on a case-by-case basis. As long as everyone in your game group is happy with the method of resolving the event, it's perfectly fine. As far as the model is concerned, you're describing a game or game session which primarily carries a Simulationist or Gamist emphasis, but you have some Narrativist influence. It becomes a Narrativist game when Narrativist influence becomes the primary emphasis. When the players' primary goal changes from a Simulationist or Gamist goal and becomes "creation of story as a group," then it's a Narrativist game. Even then you may still have some Simulationist and Gamist influence. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition. See what I mean?

Playing the game and getting something out of playing is still the most important thing. When concerns about the model starts interfering with that, it's time to step away from the model.

Best,

Logan
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