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Author Topic: Confused over Simulationism + example campaign  (Read 31177 times)
John Kim
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« on: February 07, 2003, 04:18:03 PM »

A few days ago, Ron commented about one of my examples "Look, Narrativism!"  I didn't know how to reply, and I decided to read more articles and threads.  I have come to the tentative conclusion that my basic confusion with Ron's GNS distinctions is that I was stuck in my old threefold definitions from rgfa.  

   On rgfa, Simulation was considered to be a rarely-occupied corner of the triangle.  Indeed, there were arguments over whether it even existed as a "pure" style.  Arguments from Warren Dew, Mary Kuhner, myself, and a few others were a fair bit of what shaped it.  In contrast, Ron's view of GNS Simulationism is that it is the style of most mainstream games.  Of course, Ron clearly says that GNS is different from rgfa's threefold, but it took me a while to fully realize that.  

   For that matter, Ron uses "meta-game" in a very different sense than I am used to.  For example, in the "Players as Bass" thread he referred to a PCs status as "nobleman" as metagame (assuming that it didn't directly modify mechanical rolls); and in the Simulationist essay he refers to time between played-out scenes as metagame.  On rgfa, we used "meta-game" to mean things conceptually outside of the game-world -- so a character's hair color is in-game, but his point total (say) is meta-game.  

   My remaining confusion is: what do the games that I thought of as Simulation-oriented in the threefold sense correspond to in GNS?  


   For clarity, I'll pick a specific game: namely my "Water-Uphill" campaign.  It was patterned after children's fantasy -- specifically books like Narnia or Oz where children from our world suddenly find themselves in a bizarre fantasy world.  In my game, the weirdness of the world was apparent from the outset in that water flowed uphill.  The world was a domed disk where water would "fall" in geysers out of the ground into the sky.  

   My basic procedure for this game was that I designed the world to be quirky and interesting to explore.  I then shoved the PCs into it -- specifically in the royal palace -- and then let them do whatever they wanted.  The PCs were all middle-school kids ages 12 to 14, by the way.  I had no predefined plot or adventure which they had to fit into.  Instead, I just had a bunch of notes on the characters and locations.  They wandered about and talked to people, interacted, and so forth.  They also got to experiment with magic.  When they went to a place, I described to them what was there.  When they talked with someone, I role-played that person.  

   I was using a homebrew system where the PCs had various skill ratings, but there was only vague guidelines as to how the skills applied.  If a task called for PC skill, there was a roll (the lower of 2d6, sort of) which was added to skill to gauge what happened.  However, in practice rolls were rarely used.  There was no combat to speak of except one time when Steve pushed another kid down.  Nearly all of the game was exploring the areas and interacting with NPCs (and experimenting with magic, which was pretty much exploring the areas).  

   How would this be analyzed in the GNS?  I'm not sure at this point.  I suspect it is Narrativist, but I'm not quite sure why.  Was the start of having children thrown into a quirky fantasy world itself the Premise?  In that case, naturally all of the play addressed that Premise.  On the other hand, for the most part I stuck to in-game logic -- i.e. when a player did something, I answered by thinking "What would logically be the result in this game-world?"  

Obviously, if you have any more questions about it I'd be happy to answer.
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- John
Bob McNamee
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« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2003, 06:46:49 PM »

My general read on it would be...

Simulationist

probably Sim Exploration of Setting
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Bob McNamee
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clehrich
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« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2003, 07:58:39 PM »

As you know, John, I'm as much of a newcomer around here as you, but on the other hand I don't have prior expectations about the model.

I think Bob's right, from your description, but it really all depends (I think) on the relationship between PCs and setting.  If the setting is extremely flexible, and bends to center the PCs, then you're probably talking about Narrativism; if the PCs explore a reactive but non-flexible setting, you're probably talking about Sim.

The problem here is what we mean by "flexible."  My sense is that it comes down to questions along the lines of (but not limited to):

You come to a choice between the setting altering in a far-reaching (i.e. not entirely localized and incidental) fashion, or the characters "facing up to reality" as your mother used to say (however reality may be defined).  Will you keep reality firm and require the PCs to deal with it (Sim)?  Will you permit the characters to focus on their Premise and bend the setting to fit (Nar)?

You experts (including Ron), please feel free to problematize and add precision, but I would ask you to state clearly at the outset: do you basically agree or disagree with this formulation?  I realize that it's very crude, but is the general conception correct?
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Chris Lehrich
Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2003, 08:29:54 PM »

Hey, John.

Before I give my impressions, I'd like to first say that the answers give are based on the information you give and only the information you give. What I mean is, your game may be hard core Narrativist or whatever, but what you describe may not be. See? OK.

Quote from: John Kim
   My basic procedure for this game was that I designed the world to be quirky and interesting to explore.

This bit right here screams Simulationist: Exploration of Setting. The rest of this paragraph confirms this in my mind.
Quote
I suspect it is Narrativist, but I'm not quite sure why.  Was the start of having children thrown into a quirky fantasy world itself the Premise?  In that case, naturally all of the play addressed that Premise.

I'm not sure why you would think this is Narrativist, either.

I'm not certain of the state of the term Premise, which at one point was going to be used for all three modes, then Narrativist only, now I'm not sure.

Assuming that the term Premise can apply to all three modes, then your Simulationist Premise is still Exploration of Setting, which is exactly what you've said with "having children thrown into a quirky fantasy world" At no point was an ethical of moral question addressed in your description. If there was, then you would have had a Narrativist game on your hands, maybe (I'm still a little shaky myself on GNS) If, just as an example, your game centered around the PCs deciding if the royal family had the right to rule or not based on their lineage vs their ability, and this was the center of play, then you might have a Narrativist game going on (weak example). But you had the players more-or-less do "whatever they want" which is usually, not always but usually, a good indication of a SImulationist priority.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #4 on: February 07, 2003, 10:37:39 PM »

Hey John,

I think yer missin' a really big point here.

Ron ain't dissin' your game.

Go back and read you opening post on the thread where Ron said "Look, Narrativism!".

Right at the beginning you say, "I want to try defining an alternate, non-Narrativist style, which is still concerned about narrative and story. I would think of it as a complement to Narrativism," which you then describe.  To this Ron says, "Your description really sounds very much like a functional form of Narrativism to me."  I think the confusion lay where you think the description offered in this thread is the same as, "I'm using the example of the players being the bassmen."

It isn't.

All you basically said over there was 'I have this idea, but it isn't Narrativism.'  You even almost say that it must be 'anti-Narrativism.'  Ron rightly points out that as if it's "still concerned about narrative and story" the way Narrativism is, it doesn't matter if the gamemaster or the players are "the bassmen."

Or in other words, he said 'how isn't this Narrativism?' (Slipping in a complaint about how narrowly everyone attributes his definition of Narrativism.); "Look, Narrativism."

I tried to point out how Narrativism isn't simply or literally "concerned about narrative and story," but a bit more.  I wanted to convey the idea that you imagined Narrativism too much like Dramatism and perhaps the ways that it isn't.

I hate to put it this way, but Ron basically blew off your last post on that thread returning to his unanswered question.  Over here you seem a little bent out of shape because you perceived that he was saying that your last example was clearly Narrativism.  There wasn't enough to the description to say either way.  (All that was clear was that it wasn't Illusionism.  Not only that, but it seemed like you lost track of the fact that Ron's bassman is a Narrativist gamemaster.)

See, from all I've heard the most central point of Narrativism is how it addresses an Edwardian Premise (that is a real moral or ethical question that most stories answer by developing a message based on their theme and metaphor).  Since you started that thread saying, "I want to try defining an alternate, non-Narrativist style," you were talking about 'some kind of Narrativism,' even if it were 'anti-Narrativism.'

Your second example contained no reference to Edwardian Premise, either with or without.  That, coupled with Ron's avoidance of dealing with it, must have made it sound like he simply proclaimed it as Narrativist.  If the example you explain more clearly here is the same one:

Quote from: John Kim

    [*] The players start off the basis of play by defining their characters and continue to define this basis throughout the campaign.  
    [*] Anything the GM does has to conform to basis set by the players.  If there is a mismatch of what the players want to do and the GM's ideas, it is always the GM's ideas which have to bend.  
    [*] The actual plots originate from the GM, however.  i.e. He initiates the action by creating a situation which the PCs respond to.  (Simplest example: a supervillian begins a deadly scheme to rule the world.)[/list:u]

    Then I think a serious misunderstanding is getting going.  I don't think anyone could categorically describe this quote as necessarily being a Narrativist game (or Gamist or Simulationist for that matter) and you misunderstood Ron's curious request about how "the example of the players being the bassmen" is not Narrativism.

    'Who's the bassman' is really a question of Stance usage not Narrativism per se.  In the realm where Narrativist gamemasters are 'bassmen,' then a game with player 'bassmen' would be just as Narrativist as long as it addresses an Edwardian Premise.

    All I've read here is about a charming Simulationist (Exploration of Setting) game that seems unrelated to what appeared to (but didn't) give rise to the "Look, Narrativism" comment.

    Does that clear things up?

    Fang Langford
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    John Kim
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    « Reply #5 on: February 07, 2003, 11:23:10 PM »

    Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
     At no point was an ethical of moral question addressed in your description. If there was, then you would have had a Narrativist game on your hands, maybe (I'm still a little shaky myself on GNS) If, just as an example, your game centered around the PCs deciding if the royal family had the right to rule or not based on their lineage vs their ability, and this was the center of play, then you might have a Narrativist game going on (weak example). But you had the players more-or-less do "whatever they want" which is usually, not always but usually, a good indication of a SImulationist priority.


    I think there is a question here is about whether there are ethical or moral questions addressed in the Water-Uphill game.  I'll try to give some examples.  The most powerful of these, I think, was Noriko's choice.  As part of their exploration of magic, the kids found that a magical rod (sort of) which granted the power to magically influence people simply by talking to them.  The drawback was that the power was permanent: everything you say will always have that effect.  At one point, Noriko went and picked up that rod.  She helped out her friends, but after that point she refused to speak with her friends on any point of decision -- because she knew that it would influence them and they were her friends.  I found that to be a very profound choice.  

    Further, there was a question of culture.  They had to decide at some point about staying in the palace or accepting the Goblin King's invitation to his city.  A big part of this rested on how they identified with the cultures, I think -- although it might also have to do with the contrast of the arrogant young princess and the suave Goblin King.  

    I can't really say as to whether these addressed the Premise, because I didn't have a conscious Premise.  However, I certainly felt them to be dramatic choices.
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    John Kim
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    « Reply #6 on: February 07, 2003, 11:41:37 PM »

    Quote from: Le Joueur
    ... All I've read here is about a charming Simulationist (Exploration of Setting) game that seems unrelated to what appeared to (but didn't) give rise to the "Look, Narrativism" comment.

    Does that clear things up?


    It helps a little, but I'm still pretty confused.  I really don't want to argue over who said what in the other thread -- that's why I started a new thread with a different and more complete example.  

    Now, it appears that there is pretty widespread feeling that my Water-Uphill campaign is Simulationist in GNS terms.  As I said, I can offer some more information on how it worked, but you seem reasonably sure.  (I may try to post some more information on how magic works and the dynamic between the kids, but I'm not sure if it applies.)  

    Given that case, I have to ponder over more questions to ask.  My impression has been that how people talk about Simulationist here seems radically different from the Water-Uphill game.  But I can't quite pin down the specifics of that impression.
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    - John
    Paganini
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    « Reply #7 on: February 08, 2003, 06:48:18 AM »

    Quote from: John Kim
    A few days ago, Ron commented about one of my examples "Look, Narrativism!"  I didn't know how to reply, and I decided to read more articles and threads.  I have come to the tentative conclusion that my basic confusion with Ron's GNS distinctions is that I was stuck in my old threefold definitions from rgfa.


    Yay John! Now can you go start pushing this in the RPG-Create group? Raven and I have been trying to explain it for years... (well, maybe not *years,* but a while, anyway.)

    Just a quick clarification. Ron's use of the word "premise" is confusion generating. Everyone (including me) who tries to grok GNS gets hung up on it at some point. In the GNS essay, "Premise" pretty much means "what the game is about." A "Narrativist Premise" is a special kind of premise found in Narrativist games. A "Narrativist Premise" is "what a Narrativist Game is about." Specifically, it's a "thematic question" that deals with some morally or ethically interesting dillema.

    (That about cover it, Ron?)

    So, your first post doesn't really give enough information to say one way or the other. Some of your comments suggest simulationism, but there could be a premise lurking in there that you haven't told us about.
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    Le Joueur
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    « Reply #8 on: February 08, 2003, 07:07:26 AM »

    Quote from: John Kim
    ...That's why I started a new thread with a different and more complete example.  

    Now, it appears that there is pretty widespread feeling that my Water-Uphill campaign is Simulationist in GNS terms.  As I said, I can offer some more information on how it worked, but you seem reasonably sure.  (I may try to post some more information on how magic works and the dynamic between the kids, but I'm not sure if it applies.)  

    Given that case, I have to ponder over more questions to ask.  My impression has been that how people talk about Simulationist here seems radically different from the Water-Uphill game.  But I can't quite pin down the specifics of that impression.

    How so?

    Ron uses the term Exploration differently from Scarlet Jester; he means it to describe the 'imaginative action' of a game, 'what the play is up to.'  You've got this really cool Setting.  Simulationism is the Exploration of one of Ron's Five Elements, Character, Color, Situation, System, and...(wait for it) Setting.

    There doesn't seem like much else to do in this example.  There's no listed Edwardian Premise (can't be Narrativism).  There doesn't seem to be much of a challenge or way to put player ability to the test (can't be Gamism).  Doesn't seem to be any obvious meta-game action (stuff done 'outside of play' for play) described at all (the primary evidence of either Gamism or Narrativism).

    So there's no Gamism and no Narrativism and all this Setting to Explore; That'd be Simulationism.  This isn't rpga Simulationism, it's GNS Simulationism; simple, non?

    Fang Langford
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    Garbanzo
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    « Reply #9 on: February 08, 2003, 07:27:36 AM »

    John-

    My understanding of GNS may or may not be according to Hoyle, but at least it's simple to articulate.

    First of, there's the standard disclaimer that GNS is never never about describing games, and not even players, but just player's choices moment to moment.
    Everyone is always mentioning this, and just as quickly everyone ignores it, because player's choices are such a significant part of playing, and of games.

    But, disclaimer over, the big division (as I see it) is this:
    Sim - Explore an internally consistent, but unknown place/ situation.
    Nar - Manufacture a story, with the necessities of story-logic more important than that of place-logic.
    Restatement:
    With Nar, the world as experienced is greatly dependent on the PC's choices.  Sim is about the almost-opposite - a world that moves independent of the PCs, that they can interact with or not according to their own choices.


    Benchmarks:
    Are there consistently challenges of exactly the right degree of difficulty?
    Are travel times important, or do folks tend to arive in the nick-of-time?
    Can the GM-known backstory change to make player's current actions more interesting?
    etc.
    This is all the easy stuff; yesses to these sorts of questions indicate Nar.  


    (In my own analysis, I ignore the whole Premise thing.  Best case scenario, the Premise is some morally-gripping question.  But in my own understanding, that's not a necessity, and instead Premises can be almost anything.)



    Tougher calls are when people are trying to simulate not a world, but a story.  When folks start discussing "Simulating a Fairy Tale Story," it all gets a little deep for me.  (And, just between the two of us, I'm not sure the distinction in those cases is all that useful, anyway.)

    -Matt
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    Jack Spencer Jr
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    « Reply #10 on: February 08, 2003, 08:21:10 AM »

    Quote from: John Kim
    I can't really say as to whether these addressed the Premise, because I didn't have a conscious Premise.  However, I certainly felt them to be dramatic choices.

    OK, John. It sounds like you're still pretty confused by everything GNS. I'll try my darnedest to impart what understanding I've got.

    First of all, GNS does not describe moment-to-moment game decisions. That is it does or it can, but making any assessment about any game or any person from a single play decision is like judging someone's musical ability by playing a single note. To find out a person's GNS preference or to see what mode a game system supports or encourages, you have to watch them over a long period of time to see where the preference or the priorities lie.

    The words "preference" and "priorities" are very important because there will be instances of the other modes going on during play, but this does not necessarily mean Drift or even Incoherency. These instances just happen, but they do not mean the GNS focus of the game, or the GNS priorities of the group have changed. (This whole thing is probably a discussion in it's own right) This is what I tried to say in the Incoherence is Fun! thread. Instances of other modes in a game session does not mean Drift or Incoherency (They could, but not necessarily)

    Now, about Premise, it does not need to be explicit to the players (and the GM is but a player) to be addressed in the Narrativist fashion, so your not having a specific Premise in mind does not necessarily mean it wasn't Narrativist play. (I'm not saying it was. I'm just saying that this does not mean is was or wasn't) But was the issue of the magical power and the accompanying Premise "Is it right to use supernatural influence on people?" the central point of your game? That is, was it a priority? The main priority? All else cast aside in support of this? I don't think so. It sounds to me like you've got a bit of the Magical Mystery Tour going on.

    Explanation: I've been trying like mad to get this concept into the Forge vocabulary, so I keep saying it. It's also how I understand this, so bear with me.

    By "Magical Mystery Tour" I am refering to the Beatles movie, specifically the description of the movie in the documentary The Complete Beatles:

    "The Beatles, some close friends and circus performs travel the English countryside and filmed whatever happened."
    "Nothing did."

    The difference is, something *did* happen in the form of this magical rob and the power the player had to decide to use or not. "I found that to be a very profound choice," you had said. But you basically just put your player characters into a magical world--yadda, yadda-- and see what would happen. You were lucky to have something fairly profound happen like that, but making something profound happen was not a priority of play, merely a side effect. Don't confuse it for Narrativism.

    I hope that was helpful.
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    clehrich
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    « Reply #11 on: February 08, 2003, 08:25:51 AM »

    John,
    Quote
    My impression has been that how people talk about Simulationist here seems radically different from the Water-Uphill game. But I can't quite pin down the specifics of that impression.

    I think it would be helpful if you could try to pinpoint some of the differences.  Ron's got a pretty specific model going, but there don't seem to be all that many people who are entirely certain about it.  Possibly working by counter-definition might be helpful.

    One note on Garbanzo's post:
    Quote
    First of, there's the standard disclaimer that GNS is never never about describing games, and not even players, but just player's choices moment to moment.  Everyone is always mentioning this, and just as quickly everyone ignores it, because player's choices are such a significant part of playing, and of games.  [Emphasis mine]

    The problem I have with this part of the model is that as soon as one leans on it too hard, one runs up against the "instants vs. instances" question.  There have been various threads in which people have proposed "player's choices moment to moment" as examples, and Ron has made clear that such choices cannot be GNS-classified.

    [X-posted with Jack]

    I think there's a desire to make this classificatory model more absolute than it can reasonably be.  The tendency is to look for a sine qua non, that without which a given game/session/choice/instance cannot be Sim, Gam, or Nar.  This often comes down to Premise issues, but I suspect that the model is not going to support monothetic division.
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    Chris Lehrich
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    My name is Raven.


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    « Reply #12 on: February 08, 2003, 10:11:40 AM »

    Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
    But was the issue of the magical power and the accompanying Premise "Is it right to use supernatural influence on people?" the central point of your game? That is, was it a priority? The main priority? All else cast aside in support of this?

    But it doesn't even have to be the central point of the game, only the central point/issue of the character. That is, the character was developed in the game specifically to explore this issue.

    At least, if I'm remembering my Narrativism right (since you can address multiple Egri-style Premises (what Fang keeps calling an Edwardian Premise) at the same time in Narrativist play). And if I'm wrong on that, as the Mask says, "Somebody stop me!"
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    Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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    Jack Spencer Jr
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    « Reply #13 on: February 08, 2003, 10:26:28 AM »

    You may have that right, Raven. We may have to wait for the Narrativist essay to be sure. But my point was that the fact that this wound up addressing an Egrian Premise was a side effect of play rather than a priority of play. The priority, from what I've read, seems to me to be very strongly Simulationist.
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    John Kim
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    « Reply #14 on: February 08, 2003, 10:49:35 AM »

    Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
    But my point was that the fact that this wound up addressing an Egrian Premise was a side effect of play rather than a priority of play. The priority, from what I've read, seems to me to be very strongly Simulationist.


    I'm not sure I agree with this.  I think the main priority of my game was promoting immersion in character.  For example, a key idea for the concept was that it kept the players very close to the PCs in terms of viewpoint -- i.e. the world was just as strange to the modern-day Earth players as it was to the modern-day Earth PCs.  What happens to the kids  -- not just physically but emotionally -- and what choices they make were very much a priority of the game.  

    However, you are right that I did not pre-decide on a narrow issue like "the use of supernatural influence" to be the priority.  Instead, the issues flowed out of what the characters did and chose.  You can call that accidental, but I knew for certain that some sort of accident would happen, and that was a priority of the game.  I just didn't know exactly what it would be.
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