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Author Topic: One opinion on why and how GNS matters [Essay]  (Read 4697 times)
Gordon C. Landis
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Posts: 1024

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« on: March 18, 2005, 01:01:16 AM »

This essay/post will (hopefully) serve three purposes.  First, I think that why and how GNS matters (that is, how it's useful in creating and playing enjoyable games) is often misunderstood.  And while Ron and others have (IMO) made the basics of why/how clear in their (years and years of) discussions, I'm not sure if we've ever addressed it directly and/or explicitly as an issue by itself.  As the thread title indicates, I'll offer my opinion on the matter here, but I'm under no delusion that my thoughts will (or should) be the final authority on the matter.  So I'll look forward to seeing what others have to say, be it related to my thoughts or entirely independent of them.

In the process (and as a second purpose), I'll offer yet another analogy/explanation of what G, N and S are.  This somewhat muddies my desire to focus just on the why/how issues, but I haven't found a way to make this post work without laying out some sort of specific, shared-during-this-discussion concepts to work from.  So I'll just ask that we focus of the why/how aspects in this thread.  If there's something problematic or useful regarding GNS/The Big Model in general in my explanation, let's deal with it elsewhere.

My third purpose . . . well, I've been away from the Forge (and the on-line RPG world in general) for a bit.  While I've been back reading for a month or so now, I've been finding it hard to jump back into the conversations.  I'm not sure why.  But starting my own thread seems like a pretty sure way to get me back into a postin' habit!

There are two parts to my GNS-reference/analog for use in looking at why and how Creative Agenda is important/useful to examine.  To begin with, I'm going to "explain" G, N, and S by describing each of them as being concerned with the answer to a particular question.  For G, the question I'm going to use is "What can I do with this?"  For N, the question is "What does this mean?"  And for S, it's "How does this work?

Several things about these questions: first, remember this is an analogy, and these questions can in no way replace the rich descriptions of what G, N and S are in Rons' essays and in Forge discussion threads.  Next, when I say "concerned with a particular question," I'm using that in the "prioritized" sense that was one of the keys to helping me understand GNS.  That is, because G is concerned with the do question, that does NOT mean it ignores the other questions.  And etc. for the other CA's.  Finally, the "answering" that I'm interested in here is the answering that is shown by the actions and behavior of the participants.  What's that mean?  It means that I find it important to acknowledge that what someone (even you yourself) might say they (you) are concerned with is not necessarily what they end up acting consistent with.  Often it will be, but the "authority" we look to here is the actual actions, not the claims.

The next part of the analogy is to take the this in the questions, and (in a variation on an analogy that apparently Ron was using way back in the old Sorcerer mailing list days) apply it to music/musicians/instruments/bands.  I personally am NOT a musician, but I have known more than a few, some quite well, and between that experience and the (admittedly not always accurate) cultural "lore" you pick up about bands/artists and their issues, I'm hoping the analogy will ring true and work for folks.

So then, we've got a musician (a guitarist, let's say), and we've got three questions.  One question is "What can I do with this here guitar?"  Since this is the Gamism analog, you can probably guess that I mean do here in a very direct, "what can I accomplish/what can I achieve" sense.  Getting' chicks/dudes.  Makin' money.  Livin' the lifestyle I want.  This is distinct from the next question, which for our guitar player becomes "How do I create meaning with this instrument?"  (Yes, in some way that's a thing to "do" - I'll talk some about the overlap issue in a bit, in case that magic word "prioritize" isn't as magic for you as it is for me).  The final question is "How does this guitar-thing work, anyway?"  Answering that question can lead you to all kinds of places - the nature of music, octaves, the mathematic progression of sound.  Or maybe you look into the "groove" of a jam performance.  Come to opinions about acoustic or electric, steel or nylon.

If our guitarist is any good, he's going to touch on all those questions.  But something very interesting happens when he hooks up with other folks to form a band: which one of those things is most important, which one the band is "all about," becomes very important.  Everybody better have some kind of grip on how their this works.  But a band (or at the very least - a song/album/period of the band, whatever we can apply as the band-equivalent of a GNS "instance of play") that is ALL ABOUT how is very different from a band that is ALL ABOUT the message, or ALL ABOUT using this great tool to their advantage.  And if you're looking at joining, you want to know which band (again, which at least for this "instance") you're getting involved with.

Because some people just shouldn't be in the same band/instance.  They are all musicians, they are all interested in or at least aware of all three questions, but that does NOT mean they will all automatically make beautiful and satisfying music together.  The guys who purely enjoy playing in the studio every other weekend for themselves and their friends can NOT stay together for ever and always with the singer who wants to make a living on his/her voice.  And etc.

So that's my first big why and how - understanding that as priorities (the how), G, N and S can't be simultaneously pursued (the why).

The other area I see GNS as vitally useful and important can be seen in our analogy when a band KNOWS what it is that they are all about.  A whole mountain of issues - e.g., do we tour or not, do we sign with a label or not, do we look for gigs, do we allow guest performers - become much easier to deal with when you know what question you're interested in.  In reading threads over the last month, I've been struck by how often the discussion could be greatly facilitated by deciding within which context (G, N or S) we're operating.

"Realism"/plausibility/etc. is a primary example for me:  if we say "realism within Nar/Sim/Game" instead of "realism" in some abstract sense, I think we can make a LOT more progress.  That's the opportunity I see within the 3D/2x2/3x3 models: to see that realism (and/or shared authority and etc.) are most productively addressed within a particular G, N, or S context.  We do (IMO) have to avoid thinking that since they (realism etc.) are "labels" on rows like G, N, and S are labels on columns, they are therefore the same kind of things as G, N and S.  They aren't.

In some ways, they are far more important to a successful instance of play than G, N and S are (so we've got a bonus reason of why/how GNS are NOT important).  But the way in which they are important is deeply influenced by which Creative Agenda is in play.  Discussing them without a GNS context is very muddy - still sometimes useful, I'd say, but also frustrating.  

Well, that's it.  I hope everyone's well, and I look forward to your thoughts.

Gordon
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