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Goals and G/N and S

Started by Andrew Cooper, April 11, 2005, 09:24:32 AM

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Andrew Cooper


I'm either about to have one of my "Duh!" moments or one of my "God, you missed the whole damn boat!" moments.  So, please, bear with me (all you GNS gurus) as I actually write this out and see if it makes any sense.

I've been thinking a lot about the differences between Gamism, Narrativism and Simulationism lately, especially in reference to why (as it seems to me) that Gam and Nar seem to be able to play nicer together given the correct Social Contract while Simulationism seems to have difficulty mixing with either of the other two.  To my mind, Simulationism seems to be the odd man out.  Some threads I've read have tried to put forth the proposition that Sim doesn't really exist but I'm not buying that.  I've seen it too many times in actual play and bumped heads with too many gamers with obvious Sim preferences to attempt to try to make it go away with clever mental gymnastics.

I'm a Gamist by nature (or habit... hard to tell) but I'm willing to bet that I could sit down with a group of hardcore Nar players and fit in fine.  I'm also pretty sure that most Nar players could sit in at my table and figure out pretty quick what the gist of the game was and enjoy themselves.  In fact, I've got one player at my table that I'm becoming convinced has a Nar bent to him and he's enjoying himself.  However, I've had Sim players play with me both online and face to face and almost without fail, they get frustrated and do not enjoy themselves at all.  Here's why I think that happens...

The goals of play in both Gam and Nar play tend (this is a trend I have observed) to be established and very often negotiated during play as meta-game components to play.  The players are actually playing with each other AS PLAYERS and not as characters for a significant portion of the game.  Gam play includes lots of meta-game conversation about tactics and character effectiveness that have zero to do with any in-game causality and the players might not ever even try to make it make sense in-game retroactively.  Nar play seems to include lots of meta-game negotiation about the story, the characters, the plotline, the setting, and many other things I'm sure I'm forgetting.  All of which may only be loosely tied to anything in-game.  The reason for all this is that the goals of play for both Gam and Nar are completely meta-game concerns.  Thus, as a Gamist player, I'm used to figuring out the goals of play via meta-game discussion and can sit down in a Nar game and figure it out and play.

Sim goals are completely different.  They are all establish and negotiated  in-game.  I've played with Sim groups where almost nothing pertaining to the game was said in a meta-game manner at all.  In fact, doing so would have been a complete breach of the Social Contract.  That's why a Sim player sitting at my table would probably be aghast at all the meta-game chatter going around and all the blatant negotiation of actions and strategies.  

So, have I had a "Duh!" moment or a "Missed the Boat!" moment?


Well, I can say that you do identify a willingness to metagame that is established here, in Nar and Gam, and indeed that very inability of Simmers to discusss the game-as-game is what has lead some to propose that it should be removed or reclassified.  Does that help?
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Andrew Cooper

That helps some except I don't see why you would want to remove or reclassify Sim.  It still seems to be a valid Agenda.  The place where it is negotiated and discussed in the game shouldn't invalidate it or transform it into something else.  Unless there is something going on that I'm not getting.



When you say that Gamists and Narrativists play well together, I don't think that you mean that they play simultaniously with each other, right?  You throw someone playing Gamist style in with a bunch of people playing Narrativist style and you're gonna have clashes.  The two are not compatable.

What makes Gamists and Narrativists so interesting is that they can look at the same game and play it two completely different ways.  They are similar, as you say, in their use of the meta-game and even the rewarding part of each is, to a certain extent, emotional satisfaction.  

Simulationists are indeed different and that's why they have a different classification.



Ron Edwards


Yup - this is what I call the "one of these three is not like the others" observation.

Some people consider this to be a big screaming problem. Others just shrug.


Andrew Cooper


Yeah, I understand what you are saying about the goals being incompatible.  I'm still not saying exactly what you are, even though I agree with you.  I'm saying that I, as a Gamist player, could sit down with a group of Nar players and without much fuss figure out what the point is to their game and alter my style to fit their own with a minimum of effort.  I'd still have to alter the way I'm playing but because the step between Gam and Nar is smaller than the step between those two and Sim, it wouldn't be exceptionally difficult.  Please, note that I'm not mentioning anything about some of the more extreme Gam play like the Hard Core and the Space Alien.

Ron - Thanks.  I thought I was having a duh experience. I still needed to say it out loud, so to speak.


Hey, :)

Quote from: GaerikSim goals are completely different.  They are all establish and negotiated  in-game.

Yep, I disagree. Totally. A Sim game's goals, as they pertain to exploration and exploration alone, i.e. leaving Choice and Challenge completely aside, can still be negotiated with recourse to heavy metagame.

Furthermore, I know players who are thoroughly Gamist, yet prefer to leave any and all metagame at the door once the session starts, except for the utterly unavoidable bare minimum.

In other words, I don't really grasp what you're driving at.


João Mendes
Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon Gamer

Bob the Fighter


I don't think the difference between GN and S comes down to metagame; I think it's that Sim hasn't gotten a chance to shine without Drift in the way!

I think that certain Drift-ridden games (Vampire, DnD, etc.) are out there molding legions of players into thinking that you must 'defend' your character from the GM and the SiS; players who are quiet, passive, and require a lot of prodding to stay with the game.

I've been in this spot, too. But I don't think the problem comes from "problem players"; I hold Drift responsible for turning great Sim opportunities into mere masks for Gamism! This is the kind of Drift I see the most: G and S are different Agendas, but I've seen S and N confused on countless occasions, and a lot of people I've gamed with think that G (plus "getting in character") is the ONLY model for RPGs.

With that idea in mind, I think that the difference between GN and S is a question of passivity. Sim is about Being There, right? Well, in a Gamist situation, your goal is to win the game. In a Narrativist setup, your goal is to make choices about how the plot unfolds. Gamist RPGs definitely reward winning; the ubiquitous XP and Treasure model is a pretty good reinforcer. Narrativist RPGs aren't about winning per se, but the reward for collaborating on a story is that, well, you enjoy the story.

Can anyone name a game in which the biggest focus is on Being There? (Not being snarky: I'm honestly curious.)

*Are* there pure Sim games (I plan to look into this).

In a fairly pure Sim game, as I understand it, there should be some kind of reward for being in character. Let's think about the phrase Being There: it's short and sweet, so we can interpret it in lots of ways. But it doesn't have quite the same energy I see in phrases like Say Something and Prove Yourself. I think the phrase "Being There" is the trick to it -- if someone doesn't have to do anything but show up, for instance, we could say "you just have to be there.'

I think that pure Sim games should reward Exploration itself if I really want Simulationism to be my Agenda. I worry about handling a difference in GM and player Agendas, though: can a GM *and* the players be Sim?

Again, if there are any games I should know about that truly reward pure Sim play, could someone post a couple of 'em? If not, I'd also be interested in any suggestions on how to reward players for Being There without rewarding them for Challenge. If winning and storytelling aren't goals in the group, then it's possible that a purely Sim agenda could be reached.

::edit:: So I did a little research, and it turns out that the kinds of questions I'm asking were discussed as much as two years ago! With that in mind, I still want to know what people think, but Beeg Horseshoe Theory Revisited seems to have already covered what I've been toying with....
Be here now.


Um, can we really award Sim, aside from a Nar-like "Enjoying the experiance"?
I'm inclined to side with Gaerik here- Gamists are rewarded out of SIS by experiance points, which they can funnel into the character, and by treasure in SIS to increase their esteem and prestige (Dude, he's rich!).
Nar players can look back and go "Dude, that was really slick, the way we wove that event into the established history AND what was coming up!" This can be experianced and expressed during and after play (under normal circumstances, unless the SC is as above where you leave EVERYTHING at the door).

So...Sim. Being There. Can it be rewarded via a system that is supposed to be transparent? What WOULD you reward Sim play with?
Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!

Rob MacDougall

Somewhere - I don't think it was the Sim essay, I think it was a more recent thread than that - somebody pointed out that Sim play can involve an awful lot of meta-game negotiation, but the goal of the Sim-group is often to return to the SIS and then edit the whole interruption out of memory. When an unexpected or unprecedented situation comes up in a heavy-Sim game, Sim-oriented players will often discuss at length: "what would happen under these circumstances?" "would this happen?" "no this would happen" "oh, yeah, that would happen!" And then it's back into the game. The idea here is that the Sim-oriented players do not feel like they are creating an outcome but that they are merely discovering the way the world worked all along. The OOC discussion then drops right out of the group's shared memory - sometimes to the point of people literally forgetting it happened. The Sim-oriented players might well argue that there was no "meta-game" play here,  simply a brief break from immersion.

Maybe this is part of the disagreement between Gaerik and JMendes?

Andrew Cooper


I'm sure there are players out there that don't fall into the general trends.  In fact, I'd be surprised if there weren't; however, special cases don't really invalidate the trend.  None of the Gamist players I know behave like the one you describe.  I'd be interested in knowing the particulars about him and his experiences.  It wouldn't surprise me to learn that he has played quite frequently in Sim dominated games and learned his behavior there.  Of course, that's a complete and utter shot in the dark as I don't know any of the details at all.

I also think Rob might be correct.  Sim players might actually talk around meta-game and then slip back into the SIS and edit out the interuption.  I just don't recall that much from the Sim campaigns that I played in.  In fact, it wasn't uncommon in the games I played for there to be a standard rule that said, "If you say it, your character said it."  This really cut down on any kind of out-of-game chatter.  It was intended to.  The players were looking to minimize the intrusion of the System and really immerse into the SIS.  Very rarely did anyone poke their heads up out of the SIS and say anything.  When they did, they were quickly reminded of the rule and play resumed.  This was never an issue in any of the Gamist games (lots of them) or Narrative games (a few) I played.

Gordon C. Landis

Quote from: daMoose_Neo"Dude, that was really slick, the way we wove that event into the established history AND what was coming up!"

This seems EXACTLY like a Sim-reward comment to me - nothing there about Premise-impact, just skillful weaving of the events in play so that they WORK.  Some Sim-players wouldn't like such overt recognition of the fact that established history is created rather than "just what happens," but since creation is what's really going on anyway . . . the sentiment would still apply, even if the words are undesireable.

So in general, I think I'm in dissagrement with (gasp!) Ron here - I don't think this really is a way in which Sim is not like the others.  Maybe a tendency for Sim to more often have a greater SIS-commitment ("no metagame" - kinda silly, since GNS is asked of the metagame, isn't it?  The point to the people, not to the SIS, right?), but I've seen both Nar and Game prioritized play where the metagame was even more subtle than much Sim play.  At least, I think I have,

Gordon (under construction)

Ron Edwards


Gordon, I actually agree with you - obviously, there's a "metagame" because we are after all talking about humans conducting an activity together.

But there is something important to consider:

Historically, Simulationist play is often accompanied by shoving acknowledgment of the real-people priorities into an unstated zone, sometimes hinted at but rarely if ever actually stated.

Conceptually, this feature is explainable. Sim play has a recursive quality in that the "rightness" of the play-event is based on appreciation of the source material. If what goes in is good, then our use of it should celebrate and reproduce it in some fashion ... without substantive alteration. Therefore there's a tendency to treat the real humans and their interactions (outside of directly contributing to the SIS) as a black-box function, and to treat evidence of the black box's functions as malfunctions.

Check out the definitions of metagame and metametagame in the Glossary to see my acknowledgment that our usual language for this issue is badly tangled.


Gordon C. Landis


Yeah, that's what I suspected - to rephrase my "tendency for Sim" comment, I do see that the "metagame" issue (an Explorative style preference?) is particularly sensitive within Sim because of the recursive effect (and various gamer-history phenomena).  I guess that could be seen as a "not like the others" factor, though I see a lot more similarities than differences here.  Because some Sim can handle that "metagame" just fine, and some Game/Nar can get hung up on that same kind of desired Explorative style issue.  But sure, as an overall tendency, Sim tends to run into this more often.

I guess I was just worried about making that mean too much - and Nate's comment didn't seem at all Nar to me, so I was worried folks were tending in that "take it too far" direction . . .

Gordon (under construction)


I don't know if this is taking this off thread or helping, so let me know.

Upon Ron's suggestion I did look up "metagame" and its various incarnations in the Provisional Glossary before starting on this post.  (Hey Ron – I went to look for the "links" suggested but there are no "links."  Where do I find the referenced materials?)  I'll assume the following –
    [*]meta-metagame = Synonymous with Metagame as the latter term is currently defined, but contradictory to "metagame mechanic," which is currently under revision.  (Metagame (general) = All aspects of play that concern non-Explorative matters or priorities; in terms of the Big Model, the levels of Social Contract and Creative Agenda.)[*]metagame mechanics = Techniques which do not require justification using in-game cause, in many cases including Author and Director Stances. In terms of the Big Model, System is being conducted solely in terms of the Social Contract, without Exploration as the medium. As it stands, this term is misleading and is under discussion for renaming[/list:u]I think the major underlying difference between the "goals" of Gam/Nar and Sim is that Gam and Nar are "concept" oriented activities while Sim is "meaning/significance" oriented.

    By "concept" I offer the following –
      [*]An abstract idea or notion[*]an abstract or generic idea generalized from particular instances[/list:u]By "meaning" I offer the following -
        [*]To be used to convey; denote[*]To act as a symbol of; signify or represent[*]To have as a consequence; bring about[*]To have the importance or value of[/list:u]By "significance" I offer the following -
          [*]A meaning that is not expressly stated but can be inferred[*]A covert or implied meaning[/list:u]The importance of this distinction?  

          I believe that mechanics in Gam/Nar are employed to facilitate the "discussion" of the "concepts."  In Gamism that would all the tools employed to directly facilitate the address the Challenge concept at hand and in Narrativism that would be the tools employed to directly facilitate the address of the Premise concept at hand.  Thus the overt manipulation of the tools/mechaincs as well as the direct discussion of the concepts (up and including setting Victory conditions and the stakes as well as specifically debating on what the Premise question should be for the game.) does not interfere with and can actually be a "part of the dialogue" taking place within the SIS (Exploration) of the concept.  I guess what I am saying is that the "concept" can be operated on from both within the SIS and outside the SIS (Metagame Mechanics).  The "concept" itself acts as the bridge between the two spheres of dialogue.

          Sim does not operate that way.  Unlike Gam/Nar where haggling over credibility can be directly related to the dialogue of concepts in Sim the game can not progress ("meanings" are not created) until after credibility has been assigned, the statement enters into the Fact Space (Shared Gijsbers Space) and then enters into the Affect Space (Individual Fictional World).  So here we have the first reason why "mechanics" are not seen as part of the Sim game process (though they are vital).  Also in Sim the credibility of a statement is ideally "seen" to come from within the SIS – that is the Dream itself.  If the Dream is seen to have "weight" then we want to encourage the "feeling" that the SIS/the Dream determines what does and does not happen.  Thus long or frequent employment of overt mechanics (long handling times), especially metagame mechanics and even meta-metagame issues can be perceived as "out of game".  Finally, whereas the role of mechanics is G/N is to aid in the manipulation of the "concepts," in Sim the idea/desire/process is that "meaning" is derived directly from the "concrete actions" (as opposed to discussing and trying to create "concepts") within the SIS and thus appears to "not need the aid of external tools/mechanics."  (Which is untrue, but is a constant source of tension within Sim).  Since metagame mechanics cannot "seamlessly" interact with the SIS, thus breaking the Dream, the Sim mindset tends to eschew it.

          So I'm suggesting that is natural that G/N priorities would tend towards overt and metagame mechanics while it is a natural outgrowth of the Sim priorities to tend to reject such activities.  IOW the G/N goal can and is frequently aided by metagame and overt mechanics while the S goal is frequently hindered by metagame mechanics and under certain circumstances overt mechanics.

          I'm done.  Did I say anything cogent?
          Aure Entuluva - Day shall come again.