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Author Topic: Narrativism: Not a Creative Agenda...  (Read 24193 times)
Valamir
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« on: August 24, 2004, 12:15:04 PM »

I have been recently thinking more on the nature and interrelation of CAs and Techniques in the context of my recent essay.

I've been thinking a great deal on the idea that the road taken to arrive at a destination is frequently mistaken for that destination.  As an example, mistaking Illusionism for Simulationism because Illusionist techniques are frequently associated with with Simulationism.  Or mistaking Dramatism for a Creative Agenda when really it refers to a specific set of Techniques used to achieve a Creative Agenda.  In other words, Dramatism is a road to an Agenda, not an Agenda in itself.

In processing these thoughts its become apparent to me the importance of having a clear understanding of what a Creative Agenda is and what a Technique is and how they relate to each other.  You can see some of my thoughts on this in this post.  To summarize I think its essential to have a clear and concise definition for each level or tier; and this definition should describe what each item in that tier is about...i.e. what distinguishes that tier from other tiers.


Along the way my efforts in this direction made it very easy for me to distinguish between Simulationism as a CA and Illusionism as a Technique.  But when I started thinking about Narrativism things got a little murky.  Then I hit on an idea that demurked it for me, but which essentially challenges the very nature of Narrativism.

In this post Marco indicates that since illusionism is a technique one should be able to play Narrativism in a purely Illusionist style, because if done properly, the players wouldn't know.  I almost replied "no, illusionism is incompatable with Narrativism because Narrativism requires players empowered to address Premise" (Gareth made essentially this same point shortly thereafter).

I didn't press submit on that reply because it hit me that Marco was right.  IF, in my mind, I have clearly articulated Illusionism as a Technique, and IF the tiers are separate and distinct, then it SHOULD be possible to apply any Technique to any CA.  Clearly some combinations of Techniques will work better than others, but there really shouldn't be any that are simply absolutely incompatable period.  If there is then there is too much overlap and either the Technique has been erroneously defined to include CA specific elements, or the CA has been erroneously defined to include Technique specific elements.


Then I thought...isn't player empowerment really a category of Techniques?  Techniques that would include Director Stance, Author Stance, Kickers, various IIEE arrangements, and a variety of other things?  Narrativist play might use any or all of these (or others not listed) to achieve a level of player empowerment that allows Premise to be addressed.

Premise CANNOT be addressed without some level of Player Empowerment.  But Player Empowerment methods (whichever are used) are Techniques.  So IF addressing Premise is the defining feature of Narrativism and IF addressing Premise requires Player Empowerment, then we have a situation where the tiers are overlapping...which in my mind is a huge problem.

Things that are irrefutably Techniques are being defined as being part of a Creative Agenda.  If I wouldn't accept this with regards to Simulationism and Techniques like Illusionism (a category of Techniques itself).  Then I can't very well accept this situation for Narrativism.

Player Empowerment methods are Techniques.  They belong in the Technique tier and should not be part of any definition of a Creative Agenda nor should they be required for the definition of a Creative Agenda to be fulfilled.  Therefor, Player Empowerment must be removed from Narrativism.

Narrativism must be defined in such a way that it is a functional Creative Agenda using Player Empowerment Techniques or without Player Empowerment Techniques.

But its been established that one can't address Premise without some level of Player Empowerment.  Any example offered in the past has been explained as being not Narrativistic addressing of Premise but adhering to established theme (which has been called Simulationist in the past.  I disagree that it is Simulationist, but clearly it isn't Narrativist either.)

So if you can't address Premise without Player Empowerment, and if Player Empowerment is a collection of Techniques, and if you can't overlap tiers and combine CAs and Techniques...then...

Addressing Premise cannot be a Creative Agenda.


Interesting says I...pretty radical...lets see where it leads.

Some of my recent thoughts have been influenced by the discussion around the 3D model idea.

In that thread the idea was put forth that Narrativism was really the combination of Theme with Decentralized Control.  I questioned that this idea was missing the notion of Premise...but I think my above chain of thought helps reconcile this.


What then is the Creative Agenda we're currently calling Narrativism really?  Since the current definition includes Techniques within it, it hasn't been distilled down to its essential core.  What is that essential core, and what should we call it?

Theme.  Theme is the essential core of the Creative Agenda.  Ultimately after all is said and done, Theme is what Narrativists wish to wind up with.  It is also what Dramatists want to wind up with.  The difference lies in the combination of Techniques these players are willing to take to get there.

In other words, the problem I pointed out at the beginning of this thread, that of mistaking the road for the destination.  Addressing Premise is not the destination.  Theme is the destination.  Addressing Premise is the road that Narrativists take to get to Theme.  Illusionism (et.al.) is the road that Dramatists take to get to Theme.  

These labels do not refer to Creative Agendas.  They refer to a combined package of a Creative Agenda and a collection of Techniques commonly used to get to that Creative Agenda.  This is what all of the "Subsets" referred to in the main GNS essays.  

So Narrativism is not a Creative Agenda.  The style of play we call Narrativism is a skewer that passes through a Creative Agenda and spears a number of Techniques.  Dramatism is a skewer that passes through the same Creative Agenda and spears a different collection of Techniques.  Niether is the essential core of the Agenda.


My definition of Creative Agenda from my essay is "the player's response to in game conflict".  What then is the Creative Agenda that both Narrativism and Dramatism is skewering?  What is the response to conflict?

I think its ultimately the Agenda of Theme.  I'd call it "story" which I think is more correct but we all know what a bugaboo that word is.  The "Themeatist" player (man, that word sux) will view conflict as an opportunity to pursue / follow / illustrate Theme.  The techniques a Narrativist will use to do this differ dramatically from the techniques a Dramatist will use, but ultimately they are after the same goal...just with completely incompatable methods.  


Similarly Virtualism I think can probably be described as being a Skewer that passes through the Simulationist Agenda.  I'd be interested in hearing more specifics on which combination of Techniques best support Virtualism.  I suspect that Purist for System and High Concept are likely also skewers that pass through Simulation and spear a different combination of Techniques.

Edited to add:  I think that the Virtualism skewer likely spears many of the same player empowerment (i.e. free from railroading and Illusion) techniques that the Narrativism skewer does...which is probably why there's been significant back and forth on whether certain games described by Marco and John Kim are Sim or Nar.  


A fairly radical departure...but at this point I'm seeing a lot of utility here.
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timfire
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« Reply #1 on: August 24, 2004, 12:45:53 PM »

Quote from: Valamir
IF, in my mind, I have clearly articulated Illusionism as a Technique, and IF the tiers are separate and distinct, then it SHOULD be possible to apply any Technique to any CA. Clearly some combinations of Techniques will work better than others, but there really shouldn't be any that are simply absolutely incompatable period. <emphasis added by me>

I disagree with the assertion that any technique should be compatable with any CA. Follow me for a minute...

In my experience, Illustionist techniques are not only used to create theme, but also to regulate the difficulty of conflicts. When the GM wants a fight to be easy, they modify the enemies/conflict/challenge/etc so the players breeze through them. When he wants the characters to win or lose, he modifies things accordingly.

So then, for the Gamist, how can the Gamist Step on Up, if the challenge is Illustionary? If the GM determines the outcome of events, how can a Gamist prove he has what it takes?

To me, this type of Illusionist techniques aren't compatable with Gamism. If we follow the same logic you used with Nar, then Gamism can't be a CA either.

I would argue that each CA holds different things as important, and certain things as unimportant. The things that are unimportant can delegated to the GM (or whoever), while the players must be empowered in the things that ARE important.

Nar holds theme important, so techniques that restrict empowerment over theme are incompatable with Nar play. Gamism holds challenge important, thus techniques that block or restrict player skill/tactcs/etc are incompatable with Gamist play. Sim... well, we're still discussing Sim.
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ADGBoss
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« Reply #2 on: August 24, 2004, 12:59:05 PM »

Ralph

Very interesting I think I almost went blind when reading it.  I have a couple of questions though of I that will make some sense.

First, much of your argument weighs on Illusionism as an example of a Technique and the idea that any technique should be usable with an CA? Basically then, can you use Illusionism as a Technique for Theme and can you use all other Techniques with Theme as well? Obviously I am not asking you to go through every Technique and match it against every CA, but I would think ingeneral that Illusionism itself and the other techniques need to all fit in the same way with Theme as you suggest they do with Sim and Gamism.

Second, do these Skewers in Theme have comparable Skewers in G & S. You mention virtualism for Sim but is there an example for Gamism OR are Skewers even necessary for CA? That is some CA's have Skewers but it's not necassary for the CA to have.

There is a great deal to digest here and re-read and read back so the above are just 2 quick observations.


Sean
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Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: August 24, 2004, 01:22:57 PM »

Hey Tim, actually I've argued pretty strenuously elsewhere that Illusionist techniques are quite common for Gamist Play.  In fact, I think that may well be their most common useage.

1) The use of the Illusionist technique may be completely seperate from the points of Step on Up.  In other words, the Gamist players could well embrace Illusionist / Participationist GM techniques as a way of teleporting them from one interesting challenge to the next without having to waste time in between figuring out what to do next.

2) The use of Illusionist techniques doesn't invalidate the Step on Up if it is used at the point of challenge.  The GMs use of such techniques could well be part of the victory or loss conditions of the challenge.  i.e. "We're so good, the GM had to manipulate the combat to make it a challenge and we still kicked its ass" (victory) or "We completely screwed up the encounter with the Frost Giants, the GM had to fudge a few rolls to save our characters" (loss).

In the loss condition, Step on Up has been achieved because there was a challenge and the player failed.  The loss condition for Step on Up doesn't have to be Loss = Character Death.  It could well simply be Loss = GM had to save us.  Certainly less hard core, but still valid step on up.

Further the step on up might be Player vs Player, so the GM having to save one player's bacon while not having to do so for another player can equally be seen as victory/loss conditions.


Quote from: ADGBoss
First, much of your argument weighs on Illusionism as an example of a Technique and the idea that any technique should be usable with an CA? Basically then, can you use Illusionism as a Technique for Theme and can you use all other Techniques with Theme as well? Obviously I am not asking you to go through every Technique and match it against every CA, but I would think ingeneral that Illusionism itself and the other techniques need to all fit in the same way with Theme as you suggest they do with Sim and Gamism.


Don't get too hung up on my example of Illusionism.  That just happened to be the point where I went "boink".  Its not that all techniques must be equally useable with all CAs in all combinations, but that the two levels should be independent of each other.  One should not be able to say "ah, for CA X you must use Technique Y" nor should one be able to say "ah you are using Technique Y you must be using CA X"

One should be able to say "ah you are using Technique A, H, Q, S, and Z, that combination is quite common for the particular brand of Simulationism known as Virtuality" for instance.


Quote
Second, do these Skewers in Theme have comparable Skewers in G & S. You mention virtualism for Sim but is there an example for Gamism OR are Skewers even necessary for CA? That is some CA's have Skewers but it's not necassary for the CA to have.


Skewers are not my invention.  They've been part of the model for awhile (pretty much at the same point as the nested boxes came in use).  So yes there are all kinds of skewers going through each of the levels.  Every single time you sit down an play a functional game you are "on a skewer" that spears a particular combination of Social Contract issues, Exploration Dials, Creative Agenda, Techniques, and Ephemera.

Some of those skewered combinations are so common that they've been recognized and given labels in the gaming community.  Those labels don't necessarily define every single element on the skewer but some percentage that are widely held as being part of that particular style with the rest representing possible variations that would still fall under the label...so you'd have a range of skewers that encompasses what gamers typically mean when they say "Hard Core Power Gaming".

My revelation in this thread is that I'm proposing that Narrativism is represents a range of skewers (typically those that combine the Thematic Agenda with Premise Addressing and Player Empowerment Techniques) rather than being an actual Agenda.



[note:  one could argue that the word Creative Agenda would better be applied to the Skewers and the Gamist, Simulationist, Thematist? modes called something else, but that's getting way ahead of ourselves]
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Christoph Boeckle
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« Reply #4 on: August 24, 2004, 04:06:33 PM »

I'll just drop my two cents on the possible pragmatic outcomes this new view  (which takes into account the ideas exposed in the New 3D model and Lee Short's What GNS is about) could generate.

As a total n00b in GNS and other rpg-theory related stuff, I think that the separating of CA and Techniques could help to make the whole model much clearer and easier to grasp.

The huge problem I encountered with the current GNS articles is that they are really long and complicated to read.
If you break up the descriptions of GNS into separate points, one could begin with the basic CA (now much shorter to read), then continue on with Techniques, and finally the rest of the articles (History, etc.)

The general picture comes along much quicker, and experienced "theorists" can refer with ease to precise parts of the model.


Now I do have a question on your essay itself:
Is there really a hierarchical arrangement between the different blocks? (two being clearly defined, others could probably be added)
Is CA definetly more "fundamental" than Technique, ie. does CA define/allow for Techniques or is the other way round also possible?


Hope this can be some food for thought ;)
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Alan
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« Reply #5 on: August 24, 2004, 04:40:58 PM »

Ralph,

Rather than discovering that narrativism isn't an agenda, I think you've just proved that not all techniques are universally applicable.  And what's wrong with that?
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Marco
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« Reply #6 on: August 24, 2004, 06:20:18 PM »

Quote from: Alan
Ralph,

Rather than discovering that narrativism isn't an agenda, I think you've just proved that not all techniques are universally applicable.  And what's wrong with that?


The problem, I think, is that the incompatibility means that some CA will be defined in ways that are reserved for the Techniques level. If degree of player empowerment is seen as a technique rather than an end unto itself ("what does one do with that power") then a top-level-goal should not be defined in terms of a empowerment. The preference for play still exists--but would not be defined in terms of being a top-level-goal.

The value of separating them out is that you wind up with a deeper taxonomy than you do if you combine them. Under present GNS there isn't a way to distinguish between:

1. The guy who wants the GM to make sure the game universe assists in his stated answer to Premise (i.e. that the results of his answer-action is affirming--which might concievably involve the GM cheating at dice!)

2. The guy who wants the GM to challenge his premise-answer-action in a substantial fashion in order to 'test it' (which might involve the GM taking power away from him temporarily in order to stage the challenge--which is then resolved fairly)

3. The guy who wants the GM to remain neutral and refer to in-game-cause with regards to the results of his premise-answer-action.

And so on (there are even more in the Sim bucket).

The present system also has weaknesses like this: We also say that Illusionism is incompatible with Narrativism--but is okay for Sim when, in fact, under the present description:

a) Illusionism certainly could provide acceptable gaming (if undiscovered) for Narrativism.
b) It's clearly not acceptable (if discovered) for a lot of Sim just as we say for Nar.

Breaking these things out would make this a lot clearer and, IMO, result in a theory that is both easier to apply and easier to understand.

-Marco
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Lee Short
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« Reply #7 on: August 24, 2004, 07:14:31 PM »

Quote from: Valamir

2) The use of Illusionist techniques doesn't invalidate the Step on Up if it is used at the point of challenge.  The GMs use of such techniques could well be part of the victory or loss conditions of the challenge.  i.e. "We're so good, the GM had to manipulate the combat to make it a challenge and we still kicked its ass" (victory) or "We completely screwed up the encounter with the Frost Giants, the GM had to fudge a few rolls to save our characters" (loss).


In fact, a Gamist game might profitably use this to apportion rewards: if the GM had to fudge, you get fewer (or no) XP -- or even lose XP.  

For all I know, HackMaster actually does this.
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timfire
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« Reply #8 on: August 24, 2004, 07:33:18 PM »

Quote from: Valamir
Hey Tim, actually I've argued pretty strenuously elsewhere that Illusionist techniques are quite common for Gamist Play.  In fact, I think that may well be their most common useage.

Ralph,

I know what you're referring to, and actually, I *generally* agree with you that Illusionist techniques are often employed for Gamist purposes. My point earlier was that certain applications of Illusionism DO run counter to Gamist priorities. (Hell, I personally have used both covert and overt Force to supress Step On Up when I felt it ran counter to my intended "story." As I'm sure you know, it's not very difficult to diffuse or alter conflicts when you want to.)

My point is not to get hung up on Illusionist techniques (I know you don't want to either). My point is that Nar is not the only CA that is incompatable with certain techniques, or at least with certain applications of techniques. Thus, incompatability is not a useful criterium for defining what is and isn't a CA.

I also wanted to say, I've understood "addressing Premise" to basically mean "creating Theme," so to me, it looks like you're just arguing for a change in terminology. Do you see a significant difference between the concepts of "addressing Premise" and "creating/whatever Theme?"
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Valamir
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« Reply #9 on: August 24, 2004, 08:31:18 PM »

Quote
I also wanted to say, I've understood "addressing Premise" to basically mean "creating Theme," so to me, it looks like you're just arguing for a change in terminology. Do you see a significant difference between the concepts of "addressing Premise" and "creating/whatever Theme?"


No, what I'm proposing is that Creating Theme isn't the Agenda.  The desire for the resultant story to have a theme is the Agenda.  Creating Theme / Addressing Premise is one way of accomplishing that.  Reinforcing a predetermined theme through adhering to standard genre tropes would be another way of accomplishing that.  

The destination is, at the end of the day, to have a theme.
The road could be to create this theme in play through players empowered to address premise. Or the road could be some other method.
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Asrogoth
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« Reply #10 on: August 24, 2004, 10:18:25 PM »

I am really excited about your premise (no pun intended), Ralph.  This thread seems to have the most potential of any I've read over the last several months for really tamping down some greater distinctions within the three-fold model of the Creative Agenda.

What other approaches can you perceive in your new distinction?  Why is "pursuing a theme" the Agenda?  Isn't this position present in both Gamism and Simulationism?  Story Now seems to be different from the Thematic element of your claim.

I'm still a bit foggy and trying to muddle through, but I do like where you're trying to go (if indeed you haven't already gotten there!) :)
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contracycle
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« Reply #11 on: August 25, 2004, 02:16:45 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
2) The use of Illusionist techniques doesn't invalidate the Step on Up if it is used at the point of challenge.  The GMs use of such techniques could well be part of the victory or loss conditions of the challenge.  i.e. "We're so good, the GM had to manipulate the combat to make it a challenge and we still kicked its ass" (victory) or "We completely screwed up the encounter with the Frost Giants, the GM had to fudge a few rolls to save our characters" (loss).


I vehemently disagree.  Firstly, I accept thepattern if play in which Gamists agree to the illusion to teleport to actual conflicts, but I point out that if the players agree with it and are cool with it then it is properly participationism not illusionism.  The players are agreeing to punctuate step on up with going with the flow in order to frame the conflicts, but still engaging with the conflicts fully.

As to illusionism in a step on up conflict, I disagree more fundamentally.  I see the statement about the GM having to adjust rather as a statement that their opponent was driven to desperate and cowardly measures.  That does not imply consent to me and I would think that if this sort of manipulation were persistent, the player would rightly feel that their actions in the face of challenge were meaningless.    If the players are throwing down everything they have and the SIS is adjusted only according to "the GM's story" the players will likely cry railroading.


I agree that CA should describe  what the players want and the techniques what they do, but it seems to me the vaslue in the whole model overall is to see that that what some people want leads them to do things that you find unacceptable.  That is, the particular rather than universal relationship of techniques to CA's seems useful to me for explaining actual agenda clash.  What person A wanted to do lead them to select a particular technique that limited your CA in practice.  If we make techniques universal to all CA's, how then will we describe such a clash?
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Sean
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« Reply #12 on: August 25, 2004, 03:24:10 AM »

Hi Ralph -

I wonder if this isn't a glass half-full/half-empty thing. I agree with you that Narrativism is often discussed in terms of particuar techniques, and your conclusion follows from that. But on the other hand many past discussions have also taken pains to boil things down to essentials, where something like 'theme' or 'moral/emotional charge' (or, actually, 'premise') gets pretty clearly articulated as 'the part of Narrativist play that really matters'.

I feel like I was bringing up some of these same points a few months ago, though not with the same level of expertise you and Mike bring to the table, but a variety of people persuaded me that they weren't relevant. Maybe I was wrong to be so persuaded; but if you think about CA in terms of what the players are trying to get out of play, I wonder if this doesn't turn into a kind of 'say it for yourself moment' which strips Nar down to its essentials rather than dwelling on the many intensively Nar-facilitating techniques which some Forge regulars both favor and have developed?
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Marco
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« Reply #13 on: August 25, 2004, 04:25:35 AM »

Functional Illusionism in Gamism: The player takes a risk which is ballsy but is not likely to result in death. Things go horribly wrong and the character is sliding down a slope towards water that will kill him. The GM secretly determines that she does not want the character to die.

She resolves to call for rolls (DEX, Climbing, whatever) each time narrating the character closer and closer to the water--but the character, assuming the player ever makes a roll, will not reach it.

The player makes the second roll (believing that a last-chance before death) and everyone is happy. Gamist cred has been lost or gained. The character is still alive. The GM doesn't have to worry about having miss-judged the risks or having an annoyed player.

But if it ever comes out, the player might object.*

Narrativist Techniques: If player-choice (what I think Mike called Player Input in his 3D schema) is considered a technique (and I think it should be using the Big Theory model) then what is described as Narrativist play is simply a preference for theme with the Player-Input-Dial turned all the way up.

A mode of play for which there is no agreed on GNS term would be the same preference for theme with the PI dial turned down or part-way down. This might be Dramatism. It might be Participationism--neither actually fit, however.

What that's really closest to is the standard take on GNS Sim (wherein there is a "point" to the game or a GM's story and players are expected to pretty much adhere to it).

-Marco
* Illusionism is a tough one since, in pure form, you never know it's there unless you catch the GM doing it and then, if you aren't pissed about it, the game is declared to have been participationism.
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Caldis
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« Reply #14 on: August 25, 2004, 05:08:31 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
No, what I'm proposing is that Creating Theme isn't the Agenda.  The desire for the resultant story to have a theme is the Agenda.  Creating Theme / Addressing Premise is one way of accomplishing that.  Reinforcing a predetermined theme through adhering to standard genre tropes would be another way of accomplishing that.  


This is where I think you've left GNS behind and gone off in a different direction.  I've always understood creative agenda to be what the players at the table by their actions are doing.  That means that the players are creating theme/addressing premise, or building the dream, or stepping up to the challenge.   It's not what the game is doing it's what the players are able to accomplish in the game.  I find this a valuable distinction when talking about what will cause players conflict based on these differing goals.  In my expereince I have never seen any conflict between players building the dream with or without theme if they are both just experiencing it.  I have seen and felt conflicts between people trying to create theme and those just left to experience it.

That's why GNS tells me something.  Saying that a game is Thematist tells me nothing, I could be a spectator or I could be driving the theme I dont know what I'll be doing in play.  It's much like the break we were talking about in this thread "Some myths about Virtualism" when considering GDS.  The virtualist is concerned with how decisions are made in play not with what the game allows the player to do.  Your division of creative agenda is another break along different lines, what does the game create rather than what do the players create.
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