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Author Topic: Narrativism & Force  (Read 6422 times)
greyorm
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« on: June 29, 2004, 08:54:52 AM »

From over in the Forge Hubris/etc II thread:
Quote from: Marco
On the other hand, I think that "Nar is defined by Force" as a practical matter has a lot of value. In other words, while it may not be the way to conventionally define Narrativist play, I don't necessiarily think it's a red herring at all. For someone trying to get to Nar play or by trying to differentiate between what they're doing now and what might be Nar play it's a very key question.

Good point.
I think the way it was being used in the thread we're speaking about (and then in another thread afterwards) shows a problem with understanding Force for the purposes of understanding Nar play.

The argument was made that "Narrativists don't allow anything to happen (to their characters) that they don't allow. So if something ever occurs to your character that you don't like, it's not Narrativist." This is obviously not the case. No game would be a functional Narrativist game in such an instance. That's why I found it to be a red herring there.

Force only applies to GM-directed Theme in play, not to the player's feelings about how negative or unexpected events should never occur to their character...because, frankly, that's just ridiculous. Shit is going to happen, and the shit happening does not Nar or not-Nar make.

I'm really rushed right now (have to get out the door in five minutes) so forgive the shortness of the post here, but yes/no? Thoughts?
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Jaik
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« Reply #1 on: June 29, 2004, 11:04:12 AM »

Hmm, let me go a level deeper and see if I can make this work.

Premise: "Narrativists don't allow anything to happen (to their characters) that they don't allow. So if something ever occurs to your character that you don't like, it's not Narrativist."

To my mind, to play Nar (knowingly), you must set out to play a protagonist.  Bad things happen to the protagonist.  That's what MAKES them the protagonist.  The Nar player must embrace turmoil, trouble, and adversity

So, then, what does the nar player want?  They want their decisions to matter.  They want their character to be vital to the story, not a pawn slogging through the edges of someone else's story.  Thus, a Nar player does NOT want their choices to be meaningless or invalidated.

I think the premise is correct, if not in the way the poster meant it (I haven't seen the original, just this snippet and the description from the parent thread).  The narrativist player doesn't mind GM force (little f) in the form of aggressive scene framing or adversity being thrust upon the character.  The player DOES mind GM Force (big F) in the form of railroading.

Does this seem to match up with current theory and terminology?
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Aaron
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« Reply #2 on: June 29, 2004, 11:47:15 AM »

Quote from: greyorm
The argument was made that "Narrativists don't allow anything to happen (to their characters) that they don't allow. So if something ever occurs to your character that you don't like, it's not Narrativist."

As an argument against force, this fails, because it misses the point.

By anyone's definition, Referee Force is limited to decisions made by the referee. Failed action checks, failed defensive rolls, depletion of resources, and other aspects of play that are not within the direct control of the referee do not constitute referee force. Force may be used to impact these, and indeed referee decisions may often be directed at them (such as creating encounters specifically to deplete resources). Yet even in a game with no referee, mechanics will often dictate that something happens to the character that the player doesn't desire.

I am still inclined to think the definition of force in the glossary too narrow. What is defined there would better be stated as thematic force. Yet even by that narrow definition, things happen to the character which the player doesn't want.

--M. J. Young
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lumpley
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« Reply #3 on: June 29, 2004, 12:12:04 PM »

Force is when the GM decides what your character does, not when the GM decides what happens to your character.  It's a way GMs block your input into the game: they take key decisions about your character's actions out of your hands.  That's straight out of the glossary.

A GM employing force might do so BY making particular things happen to your character, to which your character can respond only in the GM's desired way.  That's just one possible way, one pane in the Black Curtain.  God I loves me a metaphor.

But no, a GM can ruthlessly persecute your poor character, hound her to death and beyond, without using Force a'tall.  In fact the GM's probably doing it to provoke you to make key decisions, not block you from doing so.  Narrativist play is generally quite intense, adversity-wise.

-Vincent
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Henri
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« Reply #4 on: June 29, 2004, 12:29:52 PM »

I was just discussing this topic in an email with Dev, but in the context of Scene Framing.  The idea that aggressive scene framing is Force seems to pop up every once in a while, and every time Ron (and others) argue that No, No, No, scene framing is not Force.  But if it isn't, why does it feel like it to so many people?

I think the answer is that the definition of Force is somewhat dependant on CA.  In a Nar game like Sorcerer, it's only Force if it controls premise-relevant decisions.  If I use scene framing to move the characters around, I'm influencing where they go, but I'm not making premise-related decisions.  Rather I'm making the boring decisions for them, in order to "get to the bangs" and present them with the interesting decisions faster.  Although it doesn't come up in Gamism much, the analagous situation would be that it is only Force if the GM affects strategically relevant decisions.

But Sim, as in many ways, is the odd man out.  The thing that is important in Sim (whether you call it Discovery or The Dream or just the "it" of Sim), is much more broadly defined than Premise or Step on Up, which is why there has been so much debate and confusion about what Sim is.  Therefore, in Sim, a much broader range of decisions are relevant to The Dream (potentially even any decision).  So in Sim it is important to give the players control over a wider range of decisions.  I should qualify that the use of Force is only problematic to some forms of Sim, since Participationism is a fully functional sub-set of Sim that involves lots of Force.

This is just something I came up with yesterday, so I could be wrong.  I'm interested in what people who have been doing rpg theory for longer think.  I'm basically what is called "Simulationist by habit," and have only recently started experimenting with Nar in the form of Sorcerer.  I've found that even though I understand intellectually, when it comes to actual play I have a hard time letting go of my Sim habits, and the techniques of Sorcerer feel really weird to me.
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-Henri
Jaik
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« Reply #5 on: June 29, 2004, 03:39:58 PM »

Quote
The idea that aggressive scene framing is Force seems to pop up every once in a while, and every time Ron (and others) argue that No, No, No, scene framing is not Force. But if it isn't, why does it feel like it to so many people?


Quote
Force is when the GM decides what your character does, not when the GM decides what happens to your character. It's a way GMs block your input into the game: they take key decisions about your character's actions out of your hands. That's straight out of the glossary.


Scene framing, especially in an aggressive mode, would seem to remove many choices from the hands of the players, thus the DM decides what you characters do.  (Off-the-cuff GNS analysis ahead)  Most of the discussion I've seen about scene framing has been in a Narrativist context.  I could see a Gamist player being thrown by aggressive scene framing since it seems like the GM is ramming the characters into an unfamiliar situation, probably fraught with peril which the players have no chance to avoid.  Likewise, a Sim player could see the skipping of so many choices, boring or not, as breaking the experience of play.

I would suggest that the problem isn't with the technique so much as the implementation of it.  Whenever Ron discusses scene framing, he mantions that he gets the players' approval of a scene change: "So the next day you all tromp into the woods in search of the fearsome Whoozit, is that okay with everyone?"  "No, I wanted to buy silver ammunition in case it's the rare magical Whoozit!"  "Okay, that's fine, we can handle that first."

Or am I totally off-base with your experiences?
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Aaron
Marco
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« Reply #6 on: June 30, 2004, 02:10:54 AM »

Quote from: greyorm

The argument was made that "Narrativists don't allow anything to happen (to their characters) that they don't allow. So if something ever occurs to your character that you don't like, it's not Narrativist." This is obviously not the case. No game would be a functional Narrativist game in such an instance. That's why I found it to be a red herring there.


That wouldn't be my read of the thread. What I got from the RPG.net thread was this: the GM does *something* and the question is "was that Force?"

Player A: No.
Player B: Yes.
GM: It's what I thought "would happen"/"would be most interesting"/"would give the players what they wanted"/etc.

Who's right?

I think in functional traditional play this exact point of uncertainty is pretty much dominant making the utility of the word questionable if 'Force' is simply a key term of Player A's complaint.

-Marco
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Alan
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« Reply #7 on: June 30, 2004, 03:12:03 AM »

Quote from: Jaik
Whenever Ron discusses scene framing, he mantions that he gets the players' approval of a scene change:


That's how I play.  When I run a narrativist game, scene framing is always dependant on player approval.  In fact, I prefer the Trollbabe method, where players can request scenes.

Quote from: Jaik
"So the next day you all tromp into the woods in search of the fearsome Whoozit, is that okay with everyone?"  "No, I wanted to buy silver ammunition in case it's the rare magical Whoozit!"  "Okay, that's fine, we can handle that first."


This example doesn't quite catch the spirit of agressive narrativist scene framing.  It would be more like:

GM: So the next day, you're in the woods when you hear the most godawfull, wavering cry echoing through the trees.  What do you do?"

Player 1: No, I wanted to buy silver ammunition in case it's the rare magical Whoozit!

GM: Why don't we just say you did that?  Everyone okay on continuing in the woods?

Player 2: I wanted to visit my lyncanthropic girlfriend first, where I have her secretly locked up.

GM: Ooh, yeah.  That might be cool.  So Dave is alone at the hiding place?  [Looks around table; everyone nods.]  Lucinda grabs the bars and looks at you with those big blue eyes: "Dave, how can you do this to me?"

....
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greyorm
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« Reply #8 on: July 02, 2004, 03:45:08 PM »

Quote from: Marco
That wouldn't be my read of the thread. What I got from the RPG.net thread was this: the GM does *something* and the question is "was that Force?"

Did you read all the comments in following threads? Such as The Forge: Why the Hate? That's exactly the argument put forth later by the same individual, and other detractors...hence, my problem with the complaint looking like a red herring, because the critic who brought it up deliberately misuses it (despite the definition being on the very page he links to), and seems to have an agenda he's using the question to fulfill (as shown by his later arguments utilizing the skewed definition to support his conclusions). Can't argue with agendas.

As to your scenario specifically...well, it's empty. There is no way to resolve the question as you've put it. WHAT did the GM do? Did it take away the player's ability to make a thematic-choice? Yes, then it's Force. No, then it isn't.

Two people arguing because they understand the term "Force" differently, or not at all, is just beside the point. It's already clearly defined. If what the GM did fits the criteria, then yeah, it is. Honestly, I'm not interested in "Is it a good term?" debates. Those debates suck egg; they're useless, non-productive wastelands.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Marco
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« Reply #9 on: July 02, 2004, 03:58:44 PM »

Raven,

I wanted to say that I very much liked our last discussion on RPG.net. As someone who misued a basic term on these fora and called me on the same term with the same use in another discussion I would hope you'd be less likely to see deliberate agendas in other people's use or misuse of the jargon. Terms get 'misused' a lot here by everyone.

I have an example based on Silence of the Lambs in the thread on violation of character. Here:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=11822&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=15

The GM arranges a situation that the player feels takes a way a thematic choice the player wants to make.

Is it Force? If it's not, what would be a more forceful example in roughly the same scenario?

It looks to me like wherever you're sitting will determine if it's Force or not.

-Marco
edited to clarify who misused which terms
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greyorm
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« Reply #10 on: July 02, 2004, 05:58:09 PM »

Quote from: Marco
As someone who misued a basic term on these fora and called me on the same term with the same use in another discussion I would hope you'd be less likely to see deliberate agendas in other people's use or misuse of the jargon. Terms get 'misused' a lot here by everyone.

You'll note I say "seems" and I only say so in that case because the follow-up to it's (mis)use was so...overblown, so exaggerated. It looked (and still looks) very much to me like a deliberate attempt to discredit the term, and the theory with it based on that. Not simply a "misunderstanding" or a "confusion about what it means" but downright ignoring other basic facts in order to make some very loud and critical conclusions.

After all, "Narrativists refuse to allow anything occur in game they don't agree with," is simply not the basis of Narrativism. You know it, I know it, anyone who has read up on the basic foundation of Narrativism (or GNS) knows it. Force is a component that prevents Narrativism from happening, but it or its abscence is not the defining factor of a mode.

That is, the lack of Force does not imply Narrativism, even though its use excepts it.

Quote
The GM arranges a situation that the player feels takes a way a thematic choice the player wants to make. Is it Force?

If the GM takes away thematic choice, or forces a thematic choice (which is the same thing), then yes.

Quote
It looks to me like wherever you're sitting will determine if it's Force or not.

Not to me. It looks very simple to determine whether it is or isn't, not dependent on any side of any fence. After all, the GM in your example may argue that he's not removing the thematic choice, but, hey, he is, even in preserving continuity. The GM is simply refusing to create any choices

After all, he says "There are no other leads"...is that true? Fuck no. It's a game, it's imaginary. Oh, hey, look, here's another lead over there. The second problem is that you're demanding the player speak only to a Premise that he is choosing; you're assuming some sort of metagame control of events is necessary to Narrativism.

Premise does not have to be defined nor stated to be Premise, "Do I let the killer kill again because I don't want to talk to this creep, or do I talk to the creep?" or "Is my personal comfort worth the lives of others?" That's Premise, too.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Marco
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« Reply #11 on: July 02, 2004, 06:20:41 PM »

Quote from: greyorm

Not to me. It looks very simple to determine whether it is or isn't, not dependent on any side of any fence. After all, the GM in your example may argue that he's not removing the thematic choice, but, hey, he is, even in preserving continuity. The GM is simply refusing to create any choices

After all, he says "There are no other leads"...is that true? Fuck no. It's a game, it's imaginary. Oh, hey, look, here's another lead over there. The second problem is that you're demanding the player speak only to a Premise that he is choosing; you're assuming some sort of metagame control of events is necessary to Narrativism.

Premise does not have to be defined nor stated to be Premise, "Do I let the killer kill again because I don't want to talk to this creep, or do I talk to the creep?" or "Is my personal comfort worth the lives of others?" That's Premise, too.


I'm interested that it looks so clear cut to you. Your three paragraphs suggest different things to me.

1. Vincent states that preserving continuity is vital to all CA's and I agree. I would say that any sense of story would be broken for me if, as another player, the Agent Starling character, introduced to Lecter at the moment of crisis where the entire FBI is badly stymied and chancing a desparate plan was able to walk off the site and find a clue down at the local diner.

Is it your contention that the GM in a Nar game is held responsible to make any action by the PC's work out? Or is it just consistency that should be sacraficed?

And what about consequences--even dire ones? I think that'd be key to Nar play (it certainly is key to my play, Nar or not).

2. But your second and third paragraphs hit home even more: when a GM "uses Force" are we talking about the Premise the GM sees or the one the player sees?

I'd assumed that both player and GM saw the same premise in this situation (choice of father figures and issues surrounding that). But if the player sees a different premise then, indeed, the event might not appear to be force to her.

Given your examples: is it possible that observer A might see the GM limiting options in choice of which father figure the agent aligns herself with and Observer B might see the GM setting up a premise surrounding personal comfort and the lives of others?

It would seem entirely possible since both are fully present in the situation and therefore both premise and force are in the eye of the beholder as I see it.

-Marco
[ Btw: on the RPG.net Game Design thread you'd said that if I took offense at your dialog you'd address that. When you say I'm "you're demanding the player speak only to a Premise that he is choosing" I find that needlessly aggressive.

I'm postulating that they are addressing a given premise. I'm certainly not demanding anything. If you want to speculate (as you do) that they address different premises that's fine as well--we can look at that.]
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« Reply #12 on: July 02, 2004, 07:29:32 PM »

I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that the term Force needs to dry up and go away.  Or at the very least be shelved for the time being.

I've not seen a term get used so many different ways and get so many people tied up in huge knots over minutia and trivium in a long time.

At the very least, there should be some sort of decision to limit the term to the original use as described in the glossary and quit looking for Force under every rock and tree.

I swear if I see one more person go through the "But that's clearly Force and the essay says Force destroys Narrativism" song and dance I'm going to electronically explode.
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greyorm
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« Reply #13 on: July 03, 2004, 07:39:43 AM »

Quote from: Marco
Btw: on the RPG.net Game Design thread you'd said that if I took offense at your dialog you'd address that. When you say I'm "you're demanding the player speak only to a Premise that he is choosing" I find that needlessly aggressive.

Sorry, I agree, that was a bad choice of words on my part.
What I was trying to say (badly) was that your argument only examined the player addressing his own chosen Premise, rather than any Premise that might arise in play, and thus arguing that not choosing to react to his chosen Premise somehow creates Force was a mistake.

Quote
Vincent states that preserving continuity is vital to all CA's and I agree. I would say that any sense of story would be broken for me if, as another player, the Agent Starling character, introduced to Lecter at the moment of crisis where the entire FBI is badly stymied and chancing a desparate plan was able to walk off the site and find a clue down at the local diner.

Unh, keep in mind I've never seen the movie, never read anything about it (nor do I really have any desire to...it's way into my "ick" category), so all that plot exposition is news to me.

Still, I have to say: what makes you think the clue would be down in the local diner? Why can't working the beat prove to be a dangerous, frustrating, harrowing experience? Since it is established that no other leads are available, why wouldn't the player have to work at it to uncover something, go the extra mile, and/or get that lucky break?

In fact, if that's the way the movie had been written -- agent works the streets, finds nothing but dead end leads, then stumbles across the necessary clue -- would we even be discussing this? Because that scenario sounds like half the cop movies I've ever seen (and I'm not talking about B-grade movie plotlines, either).

The only real problem I'm seeing in the given situation is not one of continuity being failed, but one of the GM's ego, in forcing there to be one way in which events can unfold, which isn't even about setting or situational consistency/continuity.

Quote
Is it your contention that the GM in a Nar game is held responsible to make any action by the PC's work out? Or is it just consistency that should be sacraficed?

No, it's my contention that the GM in any game is held responsible to make any action by the PC's "work out" -- that is, not be successful, but provide interesting, charged, and forward-moving events.

That means if they say, "Screw this! I'm working the street for information," the GM should react to that, instead of, "No, that won't work! Stick to my plotline! Or else!" and provide the best experience he can for the player. Claiming that there's only one way it can go down is nothing but a defense of railroading.

Quote
And what about consequences--even dire ones? I think that'd be key to Nar play (it certainly is key to my play, Nar or not).

Aren't the dire consequences already set-up? While she's working the case on her own, another family is killed?

Quote
But your second and third paragraphs hit home even more: when a GM "uses Force" are we talking about the Premise the GM sees or the one the player sees?

Premise doesn't have to be seen/verbalized, or even known about, in order to be addressed. I cite Vanilla Narrativism here. So whether the GM sees one Premise and the player sees another is a non-issue, or perhaps a seperate issue. Whichever, I don't see it is as relevant at all to the point at hand because who sees what Premise isn't an issue.

Is the GM forcing thematic-choices upon the player, preventing the player from making thematic choices? Yes? Force. Making them make thematic choices other than the thematic choices they were wanting to (but still allowing choice)? Yes? Not Force.

Quote
Given your examples: is it possible that observer A might see the GM limiting options in choice of which father figure the agent aligns herself with and Observer B might see the GM setting up a premise surrounding personal comfort and the lives of others?

Once again, you're talking about control of events, of setting or situation here. This is why there is not both Premise and Force in the situation, because it isn't even the same issue. There's still Premise in there, maybe not the one everyone is "seeing" or wanting to address, but there's Premise and the choice is still in the hands of the player. This is plain old Vanilla Narrativism. As such, there no problems with Force here.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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« Reply #14 on: July 03, 2004, 09:40:28 AM »

Raven,

I find the idea that you think the issue is the GM's ego interesting. From my perspective it's the GM's sense of contunity: the GM in my example says, essentially, "well, let's talk about this: what'd I miss? You have any good ideas?" If no one has a brilliant or unexpected idea about how to break the case then I, as the GM, would be inclined rule that other avenues would be comparatively ineffectual in saving lives. It might be fun or intense--but if the player cared about saving lives then they'd have to make that particular choice.

I'd assumed Silence was pretty well in the pop culture which is why I used it: the begining of the movie is a desparate situation for the FBI. Given the story as Thomas Harris wrote it, while there might be some other clue involved, I, as the GM, would consider the most likely consequence of the agent not following the only lead currently available to be the death of the person they're trying to save (it's not a family, actually, I mixed my Thomas Harris books, it's a Senator's daughter in Silence, a family in Red Dragon).

Essentially this is where your argument breaks down for me: I can't think of anything outside of pure hard and fast "the plot comes down from heaven and makes you do X" as the sort of thing that prevents the player from making *some* thematic choice.

Therefore I presently appears to me that either Force is another name for railroading or it's purely a perception on the part of the player.

As you pointed out, when the GM does 'whatever' a player who thinks their thematic choice was taken away will see it as Force, IMO. The GM may see a vista of other premises or other spectrums of choice will think it's Not Force.

I don't see how anyone could be objective about it.

I'm not sure what you came away with from the example: was it Force or not?

Yes: The premise the player was operating under is restricted by powerful negative consequences as per the GM's action.

No: There are other premises available that are not constricted by that action.

No: The consequences are only that. The player can choose to live with them.

-Marco
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