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Author Topic: Referee/Player Sim/Nar Clash (from What GNS Is About)  (Read 3641 times)
M. J. Young
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« on: September 02, 2004, 07:28:36 PM »

As sometimes happens to me, I was asked a question in a thread, and I started to draft my answer, and then discovered that the thread had been closed since the question was asked. So here I've got an answer without the context of the question. Let me attempt to create the context.

Quote from: In http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=12404">What GNS is about {LONG} I
I think that if the referee is trying to create theme, he is playing narrativist. If the players are playing simulationist, you've got dysfunction. If you don't have dysfunction, it's because the game is narrativist and the players want to be in the passive mode throughout, supporting the one player who is addressing theme.
Quote from: Marco then
I want to check you (and Ron) on this to make sure I understand it.

In this case, these "Sim players" are, for example, complete genre-fiends who will never step outside of genre no matter what happens in the game--and that genre always dictates the choices of their characters--it isn't a genre where a character can make a surprising choice, for example (or have counter-genre pieces wrapped up in it like Unforgiven in the Western tradition).

The GM, in this case, is functional Narrativist--and therefore isn't shutting down people's input--so the gating factor must be coming from the other players (or internally), right?

What I'm having a hard time imagining is what happens when the GM says "This is a Modern-day magic game using the Hero System" and it's his own made-up world and there's no defined genre or conventions.

How do these guys stick to Sim?

What's that look like if they can't appeal to genre?

Ron gave some valuable input to this, and then the thread lost its focus and was closed.

I want to respond to this; it might be worth further discussion.

Not to take anything from what Ron is saying, but Marco, what do you mean by a "functional narrativist" referee playing with simulationist players?

It sounds like you mean that the referee is using the "playing bass" style. In this case, he sets up situations which afford opportunities for players to address premise but doesn't do so himself. (This is effectively passive narrativist play, attempting to facilitate narrativism for others to exploit. It's analogous to passive gamist play, in which one attempts to facilitate opportunities for the other players to show off.) In that case, the dysfunction results in a frustrated referee (the only narrativist at the table) who keeps trying to get his players to bite on something that will be "interesting", only to have them ignore it and do their own exploration.

The alternative is that the referee is himself addressing premise, by introducing non-player characters who are creating such situations and taking action within them. This may be an attempt to create prods, hooks, kickers, bangs, or other stimulants to player character action; it may be entirely about the referee getting the characters who are within his control to create theme. In either case, everyone is frustrated--the referee because his efforts to get something interesting (by his narrativist expectations) going are constantly ignored, and the players because the referee keeps trying to involve them in something in which they are not particularly interested.

I'd maintain that it can go further, to a sort of dysfunctional "illusionist narrativism" in which the referee is creating the story and forcing it on the players, who are locked into events that don't interest them especially but can't seem to break out of them (shades of Donnie Darko--sorry, off topic) and so aren't really enjoying the game. In this case, it's the simulationist players who are frustrated.

And Gareth is right. The simulationists may be entirely emotionally involved in what interests them, and not care that the city blows up (beyond thinking that it's interesting, "so that's what happens") because they didn't react to the situation the referee created. All that premise stuff, to them, becomes the referee's efforts to railroad them into his story, and it's not welcome.

Does that clarify the situation, or did you mean something else?

--M. J. Young

Post script: I don't know that Ron and I are in complete agreement in some of the frontier areas of discussion of the model; this might not be his answer. I think both of us have modified our views in the past through such discussions, so it might not be mine in six months, either.

Post post script: I recognized last night that my "sent messages" box is full, and as I'm rather bad about throwing things out I won't be using outgoing private messages at least until I figure out what I don't need to save. I prefer e-mail, if anyone wants to discuss things further off the boards. Thanks.
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Marco
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« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2004, 09:32:08 AM »

By functional Narrativist GM I mean a GM who has Narrativist interests and would run a functional game for a bunch of Narrativists. I don't think "playing bass" is necessarily a good description--but maybe--I'm not too clear on the analogy.

My example was a bunch of WW-II supers being sent to "bring in" a Nazi doctor who had agreed to s and, during the adventure, discovering that he is a monster who will escape justice if they complete their mission (he'll assist the allies but live out his life comfortably).

I'm not sure what Gareth would have happen with his Simulationists in this context or what the problems would be.

If the players play from Actor Stance, I can't see why the GM would be frustrated unless there is zero emotional reaction to the atrocities (in which case, the players are either not playing Actor stance or have created characters who are so hardened they display no emotion). In the latter case this is, as I observed, lack of emotional engagement. In the former case (hard characters) that's not incompatible with Narrativism-Actor Stance so it seems a non-issue.

Basically if the players and characters are un-moved by the situation then it doesn't have any impact, raise any questions in the player's minds, or whatever--but hey, it fits all the other aspects of Narrativism.

I think what Gareth is putting up is a situation where the players decide their characters aren't going on that mission.

I think this is some kind of different case than my example. If the Sim-players are dedicated to free-play and don't ever want to be acted on by the world (i.e. play characters in the army with a commanding officer) then how'd they get into the game in the first place?

-Marco
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2004, 01:19:43 PM »

So let me look at your example from a couple of angles.

First, to clarify the example, the referee through a non-player character assigns the player characters to a mission in which they're to retrieve a Nazi scientist from behind enemy lines because he wants to defect. They're playing some sort of combat missions team, so this fits perfectly with who they're supposed to be.

After the mission has begun, the referee litters the path they take with clear evidence that this guy they are rescuing is thoroughly bad, or at least very much responsible for a lot of war crimes for which he's not going to be punished, thanks to their assistance. The referee wants to introduce the premise of whether they should complete their mission or not.

It is reasonably suggested that if these guys are playing simulationist, they might complete their mission and they might not, and that the referee might take this as addressing his premise. That means that narrativism has happened even though the players never intended to address premise--they merely intended to do what their characters would do in that situation, and this is what came out.

I'm going to pull out the simulationists for a moment and replace them with gamists. So now we have a group of players whose mission is to get this guy out. The referee starts presenting with them all kinds of reasons why this mission might not be morally right, because this guy might be one of the worst villains around. How does this impact them? I'd say it annoys them. It says, "In order to get the glory you want from success, you've got to do something that isn't really such a good thing as was presented to you." It also takes up game time. They would be quite happy to figure out how to get around that machine gun nest, take out that sniper, avoid the advancing fourth column in the south--undertake challenges along the way to the really big point of the quest. They aren't interested in dealing with the angst of whether they're doing the right thing. That's not what the game is supposed to be about.

Now, if you have virtualist play, and the players start grooving on (don't we have a less dated phrase for that?) the angsty tension about whether they're doing the right thing, you've got a bunch of narrativists who like heavy immersion and heavy internal causality and so get their opportunities to address premise through front-loaded narrativism. Maybe they get the guy and maybe they don't; probably they do, because from one perspective that's who they are supposed to be--but in the process they tell him that they're doing it because these are their orders, and they're not particularly happy about it and don't like what he's done or the deal he's gotten. They aren't really simulationists; they're narrativists with a strong commitment to tight credibility and in-game causality.

On the other hand, you could have virtualist play, and the players are just as disinterested in all this "this is the bad guy" stuff that's coming down the pike. O.K., they feel, you've made your point, sometimes the stuff we do isn't pretty and isn't perfect, but it's what we do. They get the guy out, because that's what they do, that's what they're paid to do. They don't worry about whether it was the right thing to do--like good soldiers, they know that they can only see a small part of the picture, and their superiors are the ones who decide whether this was morally right or morally ambiguous or whatever it was. As players, they are there to experience what it's like to do this, not to address moral ideas.

I'm not very focused today; I hope this helps.

--M. J. Young
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Marco
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« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2004, 02:58:17 PM »

Quote from: M. J. Young

It is reasonably suggested that if these guys are playing simulationist, they might complete their mission and they might not, and that the referee might take this as addressing his premise. That means that narrativism has happened even though the players never intended to address premise--they merely intended to do what their characters would do in that situation, and this is what came out.

Okay--in this case it's Nar GM, Sim players, and the game is (in your opinion) Nar? I can dig that--but I'm not sure everyone will agree with you.

Quote

I'm going to pull out the simulationists for a moment and replace them with gamists. So now we have a group of players whose mission is to get this guy out. The referee starts presenting with them all kinds of reasons why this mission might not be morally right, because this guy might be one of the worst villains around. How does this impact them? I'd say it annoys them. It says, "In order to get the glory you want from success, you've got to do something that isn't really such a good thing as was presented to you." It also takes up game time. They would be quite happy to figure out how to get around that machine gun nest, take out that sniper, avoid the advancing fourth column in the south--undertake challenges along the way to the really big point of the quest. They aren't interested in dealing with the angst of whether they're doing the right thing. That's not what the game is supposed to be about.

This I don't necessarily agree with: the Gamist can enjoy the color as much as anyone else. They get to the guy--and then, after proving they could, don't. All the glory--and the color is still good (maybe the GM would do well to give them a secondary goal of getting his files too so there's some reason to make it to him--but not bring him back.

I don't think speaking for Gamist like this is very valuable--a lot of the Gamist play I've seen in AD&D (and in a 3.5ed game I monitor) has a good deal of color amidst a strong challenge focus.

Quote

Now, if you have virtualist play, and the players start grooving on (don't we have a less dated phrase for that?) the angsty tension about whether they're doing the right thing, you've got a bunch of narrativists who like heavy immersion and heavy internal causality and so get their opportunities to address premise through front-loaded narrativism. Maybe they get the guy and maybe they don't; probably they do, because from one perspective that's who they are supposed to be--but in the process they tell him that they're doing it because these are their orders, and they're not particularly happy about it and don't like what he's done or the deal he's gotten. They aren't really simulationists; they're narrativists with a strong commitment to tight credibility and in-game causality.

On the other hand, you could have virtualist play, and the players are just as disinterested in all this "this is the bad guy" stuff that's coming down the pike. O.K., they feel, you've made your point, sometimes the stuff we do isn't pretty and isn't perfect, but it's what we do. They get the guy out, because that's what they do, that's what they're paid to do. They don't worry about whether it was the right thing to do--like good soldiers, they know that they can only see a small part of the picture, and their superiors are the ones who decide whether this was morally right or morally ambiguous or whatever it was. As players, they are there to experience what it's like to do this, not to address moral ideas.

I'm not very focused today; I hope this helps.

--M. J. Young


I basically agree with this--I think Virtuality is no recipie for Nar play--but it can certainly go that way. That was pretty much my point in this thread.

-Marco
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2004, 04:12:58 PM »

Hiya,

I'm pretty sure we're all hugging at this point.

Best,
Ron
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #5 on: September 03, 2004, 07:59:44 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
I'm pretty sure we're all hugging at this point.

The GM/Nar, Players/Sim thing seems like a point of contention - but minor in the big picture.  I personally don't think you can "do" any of the CA's unless someone is trully working with you on it, but maybe in a "I'll settle for premise-address that exists only for me 'cause it's better than no premise-address at all" sense . . .

Gordon
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Marco
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« Reply #6 on: September 03, 2004, 08:29:31 PM »

There's a good deal of agreement.

But ...

Having applied both the 3D model and attempted to apply GNS analysis to the last game I played in and the last game I ran, I believe that something that's very important is the GM's methodolgy vs. the player's expectations of the GM's methodology.

While these can be expressed as techniques, I think they can also be expressed as "requirements"--or even "agendas" and I think the 3D model has some insights there (concerning centralization) that get close to what I am seeing.

So I agree with Gordon: the Nar GM/Sim-players (and I'm not sure how to interpert such a thing) is still something I think needs more time--as soon as I can figure out how to phrase the questions.

-Marco
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: September 04, 2004, 04:37:42 AM »

Hi Marco,

Wouldn't stuff like that (expectations) be part of the Social Contract, right at its crucial content of "let's play this particular game"?

I'm not saying this to write it off as a discussion topic - far from it. I would very much like to discuss it, but it seems to me that we oughta start at that level rather than focus on Techniques. We'll get to Techniques by "following the CA arrow" from outer to inner, I think.

Best,
Ron
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Marco
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« Reply #8 on: September 04, 2004, 05:41:59 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hi Marco,

Wouldn't stuff like that (expectations) be part of the Social Contract, right at its crucial content of "let's play this particular game"?

I'm not saying this to write it off as a discussion topic - far from it. I would very much like to discuss it, but it seems to me that we oughta start at that level rather than focus on Techniques. We'll get to Techniques by "following the CA arrow" from outer to inner, I think.

Best,
Ron


Hi Ron,
In a sense, yes, I would say "expectations" are social contract--however I'm distinguishing two types of play here as an example (and you can tell me if you think I'm off base with these distinctions):

1. Facilitated Narrativist play wherein the player wants the GM to run the world in such a way that premise is pushed forwards and the consequneces of actions don't, by-surprise, punish a legitimate address of premise.

2. Non-Facilitaed Nar play (into Virtuality): Address of premise may not happen. The consequences of actions may hinge greatly on hidden knowledge, etc.

I'm not sure if the distinctions I'm drawing here will be seen as valid--but, soldering on, here's where I get to:

Whether or not thse are seen as social contract or technique level, I think that one important distinction can be drawn:

The extreme Virtualist (or even the heavy-virtualist), for example, doesn't identify with the first type as an "agenda." He or she does identify with the last one--and the last one specifically.

The Dramatist may well identify with the first--but not the second (and might also allow a lot more pre-created theme--but I'm not going there right now).

So I see these combinations as sort of atomic bundles where it doesn't help to separate out the result from the means.

I can't just say "I am a player who prefers Nar games" I have to say "I am a player who prefers Virtuality-Style Nar games" in order for the statement to be most useful.*

-Marco
* It occurrs to me that one could say "why not just add a bunch of other qualifiers on too--it gets more useful with each one"--the answer is that when my preferred style may not result in Nar play, I think it's necessary to be more specific than to also add on "and I like playing thieves in rules-lite games."
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2004, 08:15:26 AM »

Hiya,

I really don't know what to make of talking about this stuff when the terms Virtuality and Dramatism get mixed into Big Model constructions. It seems to me that many of your concerns in the second part of your part result from trying to match these terms in there, and I guess I don't see any need to do that.

... but that said, I don't see why your #2 gets pegged as Narrativist play. Creative Agenda labels describe play, not maybe-play, so describing it as an approach in which something might not happen isn't going to work. The question for me is what happened.

Also, I've never claimed that identifying one's CA-preference as simply "Narrativist" (for instance) is sufficient to describe one's actual play to another person. My only claim has been that differences at the grossest levels of CA tend to cause interpersonal conflict and to endanger the Social Contract of play.

Ever since the "GNS and other matters" essay, my entire purpose has been to talk about the diversity of Techniques and Ephemera which help to serve coherent play, and (in my view) the heightened chance for fun. Therefore your comment that saying "I'm Narrativist" isn't enough gets a big nod from me - and no perceived challenge to the concept.

Although all of the above seems contentious when I read it over, I still think we are agreeing on the basics. What's difficult isn't reaching the agreement, it's recognizing it when it happens.

Best,
Ron
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Marco
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« Reply #10 on: September 04, 2004, 11:30:17 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hiya,

I really don't know what to make of talking about this stuff when the terms Virtuality and Dramatism get mixed into Big Model constructions. It seems to me that many of your concerns in the second part of your part result from trying to match these terms in there, and I guess I don't see any need to do that.

Best,
Ron


Ron,

Lots of agreement. What I'm not clear on is how to use the language in the Big Model to describe to someone else what I want in a game. I don't think I can say "I'm a Nar-player" because that'd be, IMO, very misleading (as misleading as saying "I'm a GDS Dramatist").

The 3D Model gets me a step closer, IME right out of the starting gate and doesn't have problems with contentious terminology.

-Marco
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #11 on: September 06, 2004, 02:59:16 PM »

Marco let me suggest the possibility that the 3D model gets you closer because it weds the creative agendum to a specific technique that matters to you.

If someone tells you that they are a Republican, that tells you quite a bit about his political views. However, it doesn't tell you whether he is specifically for or against abortion legislation, or how he stands on a balanced budget proposal, or what he would do about homosexual marriage, even though these are all issues on which the Republican party has some strong positions. What you really know is that this person is overall more conservative than not, and finds that the Republican party supports his position on those issues which he thinks are important, such that he is more likely to get what he wants from a Republican government than from a Democratic one.

The analogy isn't all that good, but it certainly is the case that saying "I like to deal with moral, ethical, and personal issues within the context of broad distribution of credibility" says more about you than "I like to deal with  moral, ethical, and personal issues" does by itself. For that matter, saying, "I like a challenge, and I hate standard fantasy" or "I'm really into immersion and like to focus on who these characters are and where and how they live" both give you more information than an agendum alone.

The difference is that the creative agendum touches something fundamental in our approach to games. It, and it alone, is the answer to "what do you find to be fun in your games"; everything else is the answer to "what do you find to be the best way to generate that". Credibility distribution may very well be important to how you generate fun, but it is a means of creating the kind of game that meets your agendum--it gives you the opportunity to prove your ability, or to discover something new, or to consider serious issues. It is that inner something, whether respect or curiosity or moral, that really pushes your buttons. The other stuff is all how to set things up so that you can get those button pushes.

So sure, if there are techniques that matter to you, you want to include those. Frankly, I'm not at all sure whether stance is terribly important to me when I play, and I can handle a wide range of credibility distribution as long as I understand what it is and have some control over the shared imagined space. Personally, dice are a strong preference of mine--I like fortune in my games, no matter which side of the screen I occupy. I would play a karma or drama based game if invited, probably, but it's not something to which I would be committed. That suggests that it's important to my agendum that fortune be a significant component--but it isn't really part of my agendum; it's because I find that the unexpected enhances play in whatever agendum I happen to be pursuing at the moment, and it's rare for players to be able to provide that as effectively as randomizers.

So yes, techniques may be important to how you play; but agendum is more fundamental than that.

--M. J. Young
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Marco
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« Reply #12 on: September 07, 2004, 07:59:15 AM »

Quote from: M. J. Young
Marco let me suggest the possibility that the 3D model gets you closer because it weds the creative agendum to a specific technique that matters to you.

[snip]

So yes, techniques may be important to how you play; but agendum is more fundamental than that.

--M. J. Young

(Emphasis added)

Well, yes--clearly I like the 3D model because it says something that makes sense to me. Right now, in the Big Model, I don't have non-contentious clear language to easily duscuss my preferences of tecniques (although some of that is coming about). So I'm not of the opinion that it is at odds with the big model. I think both models can serve both purposes. But some stuff needs to be hammerd out under the Big Model for that to be clear to me (i.e. what Ralph has been saying makes a lot of sense--but it isn't canonical).

But the last quote--the bolded bit--is, I think, an area I have some contention with.

Agendas don't exist without techniques. I've seen nothing that suggests to me that intra-ca incompatability is more fundamental from inter-ca incompatibility.

If anything, my experience is the opposite: I require GNS CA's to be present in order for me to keep playing--but on a case-by-case basis techniques are the driving force.

-Marco
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« Reply #13 on: September 07, 2004, 04:33:06 PM »

Quote from: Marco
Quote from: M. J. Young
So yes, techniques may be important to how you play; but agendum is more fundamental than that.....

(Emphasis added)....

But the last quote--the bolded bit--is, I think, an area I have some contention with.

Agendas don't exist without techniques. I've seen nothing that suggests to me that intra-ca incompatability is more fundamental from inter-ca incompatibility.

If anything, my experience is the opposite: I require GNS CA's to be present in order for me to keep playing--but on a case-by-case basis techniques are the driving force.

The relationship between agendum and technique is different in kind from the relationship between any two techniques. There are two ways of looking at this relationship, both valid and both illuminating, I think.

One way is to say that your agendum is the basis on which you select your techniques; it is the controlling factor in the process. So if your agendum is narrativist, and you find that it is easiest for you to create theme in a highly immersive strongly centralized game, then you are selecting those techniques because your perception is that they fulfill your agendum.

The other way is from the perspective of techniques, whatever techniques you prefer build a base from which you can most easily pursue your agendum. So if you like crunchy combat systems, lots of strategic and/or tactical options, and something on the line when you fight, these are all combining to give you the gamist kick.

I suppose that's the way to get at it. Your agendum is the fundamental kick you get from play, the basic human emotion/drive/need that you are trying to meet through gaming. We all have a (gamist) desire to prove ourselves, a (narrativist) desire for compelling stories with personal implications, and a (simulationist) desire to know more. The agenda are not techniques at all; they aren't even like techniques, really. Originally they were called goals, which is a good word for them but for the misunderstandings that spring from trying to distinguish more concrete goals (rescue the princess) from these more fundamental desires. An agendum is what makes the game fun for you, what you get out of it at a basic human level. Techniques are what it is you do to get that.

Does that help?

--M. J. Young
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John Kim
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« Reply #14 on: September 07, 2004, 09:12:50 PM »

Quote from: M. J. Young
 The difference is that the creative agendum touches something fundamental in our approach to games. It, and it alone, is the answer to "what do you find to be fun in your games"; everything else is the answer to "what do you find to be the best way to generate that". Credibility distribution may very well be important to how you generate fun, but it is a means of creating the kind of game that meets your agendum--it gives you the opportunity to prove your ability, or to discover something new, or to consider serious issues. It is that inner something, whether respect or curiosity or moral, that really pushes your buttons. The other stuff is all how to set things up so that you can get those button pushes.  

Something I learned from philosophy of science is that "more fundamental" is a vague term which different people view different ways.  i.e. You have a wood chair, an aluminum chair, and a wood table.  You can argue that the two wood pieces are more alike at a fundamental molecular level.  Or you can say that the building material is just a means to the end of a chair, and that the two chairs are more fundamentally alike.  The point is just that what is "fundamental" can be slippery.  This is particularly true for psychological phenomena which can't even be quantified in the way that physical objects are.  

So, to be clear, let's try two assertions:
1) GNS preference is fundamental as you describe.  
2) GNS preference is like any other preference (i.e. like preferring fantasy to sci-fi, or preferring dice-using to diceless).  

Are these two incompatible?  If so, what is the practical distinction between these two? i.e. How can we set about to demonstrate that one or the other is true, even hypothetically?  For example, does it mean that as populations there are demonstrably less compatibility between (say) GNS Gamist and Narrativist as between fantasy and sci-fi fans?  

Quote from: Marco
  Well, yes--clearly I like the 3D model because it says something that makes sense to me. Right now, in the Big Model, I don't have non-contentious clear language to easily duscuss my preferences of tecniques (although some of that is coming about). So I'm not of the opinion that it is at odds with the big model. I think both models can serve both purposes. But some stuff needs to be hammerd out under the Big Model for that to be clear to me (i.e. what Ralph has been saying makes a lot of sense--but it isn't canonical).  

I feel similarly to Marco.  Regardless of philosophical distinctions, I feel like the language of the 3D Model is a useful addition.  For example, Gordon came and played in my Shadows in the Fog game.  We debated over its GNS classification afterwards -- but regardless of the outcome, the debate was complex.  This in turn means that using whatever label comes out will take similar effort to untangle.  i.e. If I use solely GNS/Big Model terms to talk about my games like Water-Uphill-World, or Shadows in the Fog, or Vinland, it seems like it just bogs down discussion into a GNS debate.  It seems to me that for many games, 3D Model terms could add clarity to the description.
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