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Author Topic: strong vs weak narrativism  (Read 4182 times)
james_west
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« on: May 15, 2001, 09:21:00 PM »

(I apologize in advance for any possible mangling of others' words or meanings.)

I've seen a lot of apparently quite different definitions of narrativism in this forum. Upon reflection, however, I don't think that these are actually conflicting, but rather expressions of different absolute values along the same vector (different amounts of the same thing).

For instance, in the "Story Thoughts" thread, Ron Edwards seems to say that a game can be considered narrativist if it follows a traditional literary plot structure (conflict, resolution, theme) and the effect on overall plot is considered in action resolution. You might call this "weak narrativism" in that it seems a minimum requirement.

Others seem to add a variety of features:

Edwards and Logan (among others) seem to state that explicit cause-effect reversals are a requirement.

Some have claimed that directorial power on the part of the players is required.

Some have implied that specific enabling mechanics are required, presumably like the 'cheat points'  available in many systems, the cards in Torg or early Ars Magica, etc.

It has also been implied that weak mechanics are if not required than at least desirable.

I'm sure I'm leaving out some requirements that I've seen.

In any case, there seems to be a continuum within narrativism itself, even disregarding other elements that may be present.
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joshua neff
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« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2001, 09:43:00 PM »

it's late & i really should get to bed, so i won't comment too heavily...just one point i feel the need to comment on...

* It has also been implied that weak mechanics are if not required than at least desirable. *

a slight nitpick--"weak mechanics" perhaps by simulationist or gamist standards, but strong by narrativist...that is, i detest the white wolf tagline "ignore the rules if they get in the way of the story"--it's insulting & not at all helpful...what's much more helpful are mechanics that support & facilitate story-creation..."hero wars" is, i believe, not especially rules-lite (compared to, say, "over the edge"), but it does a bang-up narrativist job...same, i think, w/ "dying earth"..."sorcerer"'s demon rules can be pretty complex (what w/ the breakdown into individual actions of the interaction w/ demons), but each roll is necessary for reinforcing the premise w/in the story...
on the other hand, long lists of different gun types are a weird tack-on to a vampire story--at what point does anne rice make the distinction between different hand guns & their different effects? so why the hell does "vampire" make the distinction? in what way do the gazillion stats & account-esque point-allocation of "champions" facilitate story-creation? how do they reinforce the style or genre or premise of superheroes?

okay, sleep now...
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2001, 06:22:00 AM »

I also suggest that equivalent discussions and developments are happening for Simulationism, e.g. the E-thing, and that such could well be carried for Gamism.]

"It has also been implied that weak mechanics are if not required than at least desirable."

I'm with Josh here. No one implied this. No one implied this. Historically, much Narrativist play has involved slimming-down 80s-style Simulationist systems, and so "story" has come to mean "rules-light" in many folks' minds. I specifically disavow this idea from G/N/S thinking. Rules-density is a separate variable.

"I'm sure I'm leaving out some requirements that I've seen."

No, you've hit the one, single REQUIREMENT on the nose. Everything else is technique.

"In any case, there seems to be a continuum within narrativism itself, even disregarding other elements that may be present."

Of course there is; in fact, there are several continua:
- ranges of method of resolution, as worked out for D/F/K, and as expressed by different levels of effectiveness, and more
- ranges of GM-player input and authority
- most importantly to me, the same continuum of THEME you might find in any narrative medium: movies, literature, oral traditions, and so on. You find confirmatory themes, cautionary themes, ambiguous themes, and more, all of which are wonderful - the only thing to avoid is incoherence.

But none of these are differences in the notion of what the "Big N" actually IS. You are not seeing disagreement, but enthusiastic diversity of application in this one approach to the medium of role-playing.

Best,
Ron
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2001, 09:21:00 AM »

Let me amplify Ron's point regarding rules. Narrativist design, from what I've seen of it, recognizes that a comprehensive set of rules does not need to detail every possible exigency or piece of equipment in a game world. The example someone gave of gun stats in Vampire comes to mind as an example of rules actively getting in the way of the game's purported storytelling goals. Narrativist game design aims at streamlining rules to ease the focus on the game's premise, and that goal often requires sloughing off the pages and pages of wargaming-derived, detail-driven, chronological cause-effect mechanics.

In Vampire, for example, the core concept that reinforces the game's premise is the Virtue set of Conscience, Self-Control, and Courage, as well as Humanity and Blood Pool. Had White Wolf streamlined the rest of the rules set along OTE's or Sorcerer's model, the game would arguably have been a genuinely Narrativist design.

Another quibble -- and let me inject, James, that I'm enjoying your input, as it's nice to have a bete noire perspective shake things up -- is the use of the term "cheat" for mechanisms that grant the player directorial power. I recognize you put quotes around it, but the term carries the implication of dishonest design, like such mechanisms are workarounds or patches tacked onto a game design. Sometimes they are, frankly, and it's an effective descriptor, but it risks sticking and thereafter clouding discussion on issues of player directorial power. I'd be more comfortable if we found a less loaded term. Use of Story Points, Karma Points, or Hero Points doesn't seem like a cheat to me, and it wouldn't be useful to start thinking of them in that way, particularly when trying to explain Narrativism to other folks. Granted, I'm being a bit alarmist here, but I can picture someone new to the threefold model concluding: "Narrativist games use cheats and GM fiat to reach pre-set plot goals." Oy.

Best,

Blake
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