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Author Topic: a variant phylogeny  (Read 7468 times)
Paul Czege
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« on: April 29, 2001, 07:47:00 PM »

Hey everyone,

Somewhere in our G/N/S thoughts, between the creation of the RPG hobby in the 70's by TSR with a Gamist game and more recent developments of Narrativist game designs are, I think, some unscrutinized assumptions about the evolution of games. One assumption, driven perhaps by a pervasiveness in the hobby during the early 80's of house rules and efforts to "fix" the game mechanics of AD&D, is that somehow Simulationist games evolved in response to Gamist games. And another assumption, perhaps based solely on the fact that Narrativist games are more recent to the hobby, is that somehow they're the newest stage of the evolution.

I'm one session into the second hardcore Narrativist game scenario I've ever been part of, and some seemingly unconnected things have driven me over the past few days to scrutinize some of my assumptions about RPG evolution. The current game I'm playing is Theatrix. The GM is one of the players from my recently completed Everway scenario. He's running an awesome Watchman-esque comic book scenario, making aggressive use of the Theatrix mechanics for flashbacks, cut-scenes, and subplots. At one point during the first session he framed a flashback that centered on my character in his office. One of the features of Theatrix is that a player can introduce himself into a flashback, cut-scene, or subplot at will, with either his own character or with a character he invents on the fly for that scene. And I had assumed going in to the game session that the other players would have difficulty with it. I was very wrong about that in regards to one player...the most Gamist one of the group. He casually had his character knock on the door of my character's office as if we were old acquaintances, a fact that we hadn't established prior to the game. He used his "wealthy" descriptor passively to present my character with an expensive asian rug for having helped him during a recent incident when he was implicated in a murder, another fact he invented as part of the scene. The other two players struggled to introduce themselves into the scene. Time dragged on for a bit without their presence in the scene. Finally, the GM said, "Call one of them." And I hesitated. I couldn't come up with a single reason that I'd  would prompt me to call one of them. But the other player, again very casually, just called. And he was comfortable doing it. My Simulationist need for an in-character reason had me struggling with a highly Narrativist aspect of the game that a more Gamist player was having no trouble with.

That got me thinking. In the "All-out dissection" thread, Logan says that his RPG biases are more Gamist and Narrativist than Simulationist. And Ron likewise has said in threads on GO that he understands Gamism better than Simulationism. And I had a realization about that linkage...Author stance. The reason my more Gamist friend was so comfortable with what Theatrix was requiring of us as players is because both Gamism and Narrativism permit the player Author stance. The reason myself and other players were having trouble is because Simulationism does not.

And that got me thinking about the evolution of RPG's, questioning the idea that house rules and fixes gave rise to Simulationist games. My remembrance is that the hobby had fairly sophisticated efforts toward both Gamist and Simulationist games from pretty much early on. In contrast, sophisticated Narrativist systems didn't arrive until much later. Chronologically, games like Traveller didn't come that much later than Dungeons & Dragons; not compared to how much longer again it took before we saw Prince Valiant. Going back to the common ancestor, wargames have two essential characteristics: they're competitive and they're simulations. The evolution of RPG's from wargames is an adding of story elements. What if games like Dungeons & Dragons are an evolutionary branch that preferenced competitiveness and games like Traveller are an evolutionary branch that preferenced simulation? The preferencing of competitiveness came with things like player use of Author stance and of metagame. The preferencing of simulation came with an explicit denial of both of those things. By this phylogeny, where the evolutionary trend of each branch was toward story, Narrativism is an evolutionary outgrowth of Gamism. Gone is the competitiveness that drove the original evolutionary branch, replaced by collaborative creativity, but remaining are player use of Author stance and explicit metagame.

But then you have to ask yourself, what the hell happened to the Simulationist branch? Did it fail to generate a descendent form? Shouldn't you expect an emergent descendent of Simulationism on somewhat the same timetable as Narrativism? It's hard to prove an evolutionary theory without a specimen. But man I think there is one. And I have Scarlet Jester's "Exploratory" theory to credit for pointing me at it. The key insight was the concept of simulation of character. The trend along the Narrativist branch is toward lighter, more focused rules and increasing reliance on player skill. I thought to myself, is there a form of simulation of character that relies on lighter, more focused rules and increasing reliance on player skill? And strangely, the thing that leapt into my mind was the Turkuist Manifesto. It's a Finnish manuscript detailing an aggressive style of heavily LARP-based simulation of character. Check out the Turkuist Vow of Chastity
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #1 on: April 30, 2001, 11:09:00 AM »

That is an interesting thought....

You see, I have a harder time relating to Gamism than Simulationism.  (Of course, I'm also a semi-purist wargamer, so that might make sense.)  My goals for a long time have been aimed towards immersion in character, rather than manipulation of plot.  In retrospect I think that this goal jarred somewhat with my attempts to be more story-oriented.  However, this line of inquiry does seem to connect with my personal experience.  It would also seem to account for the "Possessor" stance of John Kim (if I am remembering aright).  I'll be looking forward to hearing others' feedback on this topic.


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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #2 on: April 30, 2001, 11:22:00 AM »

Quote
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #3 on: April 30, 2001, 11:30:00 AM »

Paul--

I'd have to agree with you here. There's been something I couldn't put my finger on about several modern games--a sense they definitely weren't Narrativist or Gamist, but not quite what I'd consider Simulationist. (As mentioned earlier, Blue Planet's a great example of this.)

This also could explain why Narrativists and Gamists usually manage to get along, if not agree on terminology, while the strongest negative reactions to both the G/N/S model and hardcore Gamism come from players of modern post-Simulationist games.

(Take a look at rpg.net sometime. You'll notice that the strongest detractors from G/N/S and 3rd Edition D&D--a pretty much hardcore Gamist system--are the same people, and they almost all play the same games: Blue Planet, Ars Magica, and Vampire--which I'd put in Exploratory, or post-Simulationist.)

If post-Simulationism is a distinct evolution, what are the goals of a post-Simulationist game?
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: April 30, 2001, 01:03:00 PM »

Clinton,

I nominate Jim Henley and the Scarlet Jester to handle that one. I think they've probably thought more about it, and tried more games with these issues in mind, that anyone else I know.

Paul,

I agree with your phylogeny entirely. Simulationism AND Gamism are strongly present in the pre-role-playing, wargame design scheme. I also think there's been an "undercurrent" of "struggling Narrativism" from the very beginning, such that many games were probably PLAYED in a Narrativist fashion at-home with the designers, then WRITTEN in a Simulationist-fashion as a published product. It's evident in a lot of Forewords, which talk about "shared story creation," to utterly non-story-creation games.

Best,
Ron
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #5 on: April 30, 2001, 04:27:00 PM »

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: May 04, 2001, 09:00:00 AM »

As far as I can tell, Seth, it's simply a form of Simulationism.

A lot of people have trouble with understanding this goal or priority, and I confess I find it rather alien in terms of IDENTIFYING with it ... but the behaviors and design priorities are very clear.

Behavior: the purpose of play is to see "how events play out," specifically without VICTORY or THEME as the indicator of success. (One very knowledgeable poster on the Forge does not think any player REALLY conforms to this, but opinions differ.)

Another aspect of Simulationist behavior is that the player is "inside" the character and has complete and utter authority over "my guy" and what he does. The GM, by contrast, has complete and utter authority over anything external to the PCs. Author stance is frowned upon; Director stance is unheard of. Railroading is an ongoing, constant issue in these circumstances.

Design: (1) system mechanics that act as final resolvers to a stated/established set of conditions. This concept is found in games as diverse as The Window and RoleMaster, and it is a direct contrast to "in the middle" mechanics like those in Hero Wars and Story Engine.

What I mean by this is that "announce action completely," "resolve success or failure," and "resolve outcome" are ALWAYS handled in precisely that order. The system OCCURS LAST in the resolution process.

(2) In the most common brand of Simulationism, rules are intended to function as the game-world's physics, and they often present layered, flow-chart style probability sets (especially in combat).

Optional: (3) Metaplot (in the sense of published plot events via supplements that people are expected to insert into their own, ongoing games) is common in Simulationist design.

What we see in this "new" (or at least newly acknowledged) form of Simulationism is a de-emphasis of the reality-based, highly-layered mechanics common to 80s-style Simulationist games like RoleMaster and GURPS. Instead, we have an emphasis on the experiential aspects of "being your character" and WHATEVER that might entail, irrespective of whether that gains the PC any kind of success or produces any kind of thematic impact. However, I see no change in points #1 or #2 above.

Best,
Ron
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2001, 09:20:00 AM »

<boom>

I just got Simulationism. I also realized that it's very often confused with focus on story.

There is a good Simulationist game on the market. 7 of them, actually--but let's choose one--Vampire: the Masquerade.

You focus on one character in an expansive world, where the point of the game is to experience the inhumanity of being trapped as a beast, surrounded by other beings like you who control most everything. Neither by mechanics or setting do you have any real control over anything besides what your character does. And, it's worth pointing out again: the point is to experience a character in a "what-if" type scenario. What if I were trapped as an immortal beast? It explicitly isn't on a continguous story, even if it's called a "Story-teller Game." The world is dynamic, but not controlled by the players, or even the GM.

Wow. It's all so much clearer to me now, and strangely, I can appreciate V:tM a lot more now that I know what it is.

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[ This Message was edited by: Clinton R Nixon on 2001-05-04 13:52 ]
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #8 on: May 07, 2001, 02:02:00 PM »

 This Message was edited by: Paul Czege on 2001-05-07 23:04 ]
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: May 09, 2001, 07:54:00 AM »

Paul,
I still hold with my original view, based on the defining features of Simulationism. Those features are preserved in this "new flavor," although the focus of attention has shifted. The features (to review) are:
- Actor stance for players
- chronological correspondence between out-of-game task resolution and in-game events themselves

Here's how I see it. The primary conflict in Simulationist play of the 80s and early 90s is this: the GM has total control of the "world," and each player has total control of "my guy." When working out events during play, you get conflicts between these.

In the 80s, that meant extensive debate and system-concentration on rules themselves (hence GURPS) and "the world" in anthropological and geographical terms (hence Harn, and the approach to Glorantha at that time). An interesting exception is Call of Cthulhu, which focused on simulating a particular story-structure in a "Evening Murder Mystery" kind of way.

In the 90s, with Vampire as the transition step, that meant extensive metaplot and the importance of EXPERIENCING one's character. The GM-player conflict is resolved either by (1) defining the GM as a "channel" of metaplot and setting rather than as a dictator, or (2) by reducing the emphasis on GM ("story" as defined locally), leaving only character-experiencing as the priority. This is, I think, at least one interpretation of the problematic term "immersion."

To support my point further, I cite the Vow of Chastity made by the advocates of the E-thing, which specifically disavow any obligation of the player to facilitate the enjoyment or understanding of ANYONE ELSE in the role-playing experience. This is drastic Actor stance, which in my opinion is only possible in a Simulationist context. "Story" is totally out the window - completely NOT the priority, and therefore I disagree with your suggestion that the E-thing has evolved along the same trajectory as Narrativism, in any way at all.

(This picture also explains the bevy of system-lite RPGs like Agent X, Purgatory, and to some extent Underworld, which present LARPs as what one does after "graduating" from traditional RPGs. Interestingly, none of these games emphasize decision-making and moral weight of story-making in any way, shape, or form - just BEING the character is enough.)

I see this new thing (the "E" thing) as refining #2 into its most rarefied form. It resolves some of the conflicts inherent in Simulationism as seen in the 1980s, and it eliminates many of the priorities of 80s-style design, like highly-physically-simulative probability tables. However, those specific priorities never DEFINED Simulationism, but merely expressed it in a particular way. Now we see it being expressed in a different way, perhaps more tuned to the priorities of more players (there's certainly a market for it).

Best,
Ron
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