Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

What Is Creative Agenda?

Started by Vaxalon, July 26, 2005, 03:03:08 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


From Narrativist games and "winning"? :

Quote from: Ron Edwards on July 25, 2005, 07:59:12 PM

Fred, I recommend considering that looking into one's own head and trying to identify Creative Agenda through "how did it feel" thinking is almost always futile.

Okay, I'm considering...

I'm confused.

If creative agenda is, at its heart, about what the group wants to achieve in the game, isn't what *I* want at least relevant to the consideration?

My confusion, it seems, might stem from one of the following logical failures on my part:

1> I misunderstand what a creative agenda is
2> I misunderstand what Ron was saying in the above quote
3> My own experience in the game, while relevant, is insufficient to analyze CA
4> Ron's statement is incorrect.

Failure number one is ENTIRELY possible.  "Creative Agenda" has never been sufficiently defined in any way except in the context of of gamism, narrativism, and simulationism as examples.  Yes, you can get something of an idea what "mammal" means by talking about monotreme, marsupial, and placental... but that's not as useful as talking about hair, mammary glands, and diaphragm.

I don't think failure number two is likely.  Ron's statement seems pretty straightforward.

I don't think failure number three is likely.  If my own experience is insufficient to analyze CA, then what else is there to go on?

Possible failure number four won't be discussed in this post.  I'll assume for now that Ron is as good an authority on CA as I'll find.

So here's the point of this post:

What *IS* Creative Agenda?  

Defining it as a box that contains GNS is insufficient.  For one thing, it fails to address the possibility that there may be other creative agendas besides GNS.  If I were to find one, how would I know that it's a creative agenda?

"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
                                     --Vincent Baker

Ron Edwards

Hi Fred,

Your #1 is the case, I'm afraid - at present, you simply do not know what the term is referring to, and that tends to show up in your posting about it in other threads. I am very, very glad to see you asking this question in this forum, and I'm looking forward to helping.

So let's start from the beginning. From The Provisional Glossary:

QuoteThe aesthetic priorities and any matters of imaginative interest regarding role-playing. Three distinct Creative Agendas are currently recognized: Step On Up (Gamist), The Right to Dream (Simulationist), and Story Now (Narrativist). This definition replaces all uses of "Premise" in GNS and other matters of role-playing theory aside from the specific Creative Agenda of Narrativist play. Creative Agenda is expressed using all Components of Exploration, but most especially System.

If the sentence including the GNS terms bugs you, ignore it. It is not part of the actual definition, which is the first sentence. "Aesthetic priorities and any matters of relevant interest." What a mouthful, eh? No wonder people get bent out of shape at my writing. I think we'll do better to consider the concept of "agenda" - and I've chosen that word really, really carefully.

Why? Because you might want something, or have a motive about something, but when we talk about your agenda then we have to talk about what you've actually put into practice. Wants and motives are awfully nebulous, and they tend to come up when discussing before actions and after actions, not during. Agendas are usually assessed as a function of what actually occurred, and that's what we need to stick with.

To put it kind of brutally, I don't care what a person thought or says he or she wanted, I care quite a bit about what they did when they were doin' what they did.

So let's work with your text:

QuoteIf creative agenda is, at its heart, about what the group wants to achieve in the game, isn't what *I* want at least relevant to the consideration?

We have to get rid of all that "want" stuff. Let's say instead, the agenda which is revealed among the members. And since you very rightly point out that groups are composed of individuals, we could talk about what each individual was up to. That's obviously easiest when they are distinct from one another, but that puts us in the unpleasant situation of a group who either isn't role-playing well together, or is minimizing their own role-playing to such a degree that they don't come into conflict.

Better to talk about a group which, despite any hypothetical individual differences, has an agenda that's identifiable in their interactions. Maybe it's only an overlap between the individual ones, or maybe every single person is right on the same page, or anything in between. Doesn't matter.

So yeah, what your own agenda is matters. If you were playing a team sport, then your agenda on the field matters. ... But the relationship to the group-level activities still applies. If yours is too far away from whatever that group-level agenda is, then there's going to be friction. Even if another guy has an agenda that's a little different from the group one, if he's making an effort to get on the same page with everyone at least to some degree, he's going to be pissed that you're not doing the same.

Comments, questions? Again, thanks for posting this. This is exactly the stuff that needs to be in this forum.


Hey Fred,

I'll give you my take.

Historically, there's been a bit of inconsistency in using the term "Creative Agenda." In some threads I have seen it defined as "One of the three: Gamism, Simulationism, or Narrativism." But in other threads, there has been the whole issue of additional CAs, which would undermine the convenience of that definition. :)

So, here I go:

One's individual Creative Agenda involves a goal-state, or a set of goal-states, for the SiS. This goal state is with reference to some specific in-SiS conflict(s) and the events that must take place to deal with them. However, post-play knowldge of the goal-state is not sufficient to identify a CA in action - a CA depends on a goal state, but is more than a goal-state. The fitness test for a particular goal-state is something that takes place in each individual's mind and is defined by the player's personal perception of the meaning of that goal state: Gamism goal-states are evaluated on the basis of whether or not the player will increase his ability to effect the SiS by setting up and resloving these particular conflicts;  Simulationism goal-states are evaluated on the basis of whether or not setting up and resolving these particular conflicts demonstrate causal relationships WRT to some element(s) of the SiS; Narrativism goal-states are evaluated on the basis of whether or not setting up and resolving these particular conflicts make a moral or ethical statement of personal meaning to the player.

When goal states are mutually exclusive you have disfunction.

This means several things. First, it means that a person's own Creative Agenda is not something that is hard-coded into his system. It is not a long-term, "live with it or stop playing RPGs" kind of a thing. A person's creative agenda can change whenever that person begins a new game, or whenever one of the goal states he's been working for is achieved (or failed). Also, I suppose, you could just get bored with what you've been doing and change CAs whenever you feel like it. I imagine that this would make for some choppy play. :)

Second, satisfaction derived from play doesn't necessarily depend on the success or failure of a particular conflict. In-game failure for one's own character can be a part of a desireable goal-state. (In Shadows, for example, a lot of times you root for the bad die to win.)

Third, if conflicts are not set up and resolve druing play, no Creative Agenda is present. (This doesn't seem to happen very often, but it seems theoretically possible). I believe this is what they call Zilchplay.

Fourth, if a player has no particular goal state in mind (i.e., he doesn't really care how things turn out, one way or another) but participates just because he likes making stuff up, I don't see how a CA can be said to be at work. (No one else seems to agree with this, though.)

Fifth, if a particular goal state can support more than one (maybe all three) CAs, then transcripts of actual play are not trustworthy sources of information for identifying what CAs were active. A player may have been evaluating the goal state based on any one of the three fitness tests when he made his choice.

Sixth, as per Fifth above, several players in the same game may be using different fitness tests but still arrive at compatible goal states. That is, they're working towards the same thing for different reasons. This is why the original "instance of play" term was vaguel defined as "we don't know exactly how long, but a while." It had to be however long it took for those players to run into a goal-state that was incompatible with one player's fitness test.

I think that's all.


When I eliminate the "GNS Box" definition of CA from Ron's quote, I get "The aesthetic priorities and any matters of imaginative interest regarding role-playing."  I don't understand what that means.

I understand that CA isn't what I say I want, or what I think I want.  It's also not what the members of the group, or some hypothetical summation of the group, says it wants or thinks it wants.  But a negative definition is no better than an exemplary one... perhaps worse.

(As an aside, I'll state that the word "agenda" is a poor choice of words because in non-Forge usage, it is a statement about what a group intends to achieve.  Whether that is actually achieved or not is immaterial.)

Instead, the Creative Agenda, if I understand correctly, is what the group, in summation, values enough to act upon.  It's only there when the rubber meets the road.   Creative Agenda isn't a plan, it's a result.

Nate, did you have a definition of CA in there somewhere?  If so, I didn't catch it.

CA is not immutable.  Fun doesn't depend on success.  CA depends on conflicts.  CA can be absent.  You can't always determine CA from play.  Different CA's can be compatible with each other.  All are most likely true, and most are likely interesting, but these statements are failing to coalesce for me.
"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
                                     --Vincent Baker



Heh, yeah, I guess that was a little fragmented. The Creative Agenda is the combination of goal and test. The goal is the Agenda part. It's what I'm working to achieve. The test is the Creative part. It's the impetus that propels me along the path to the goal. "Working to achieve" in practical terms is "making stuff up." The test tells me what kind of stuff I need to make up to get closer to my goal; it informs my imagination.


Nate, is Creative Agenda something that an individual has, or a group?  It seems like you're saying that it's an individual attribute, whereas Ron says it's an attribute of the group.
"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
                                     --Vincent Baker


Hi Fred,

Creative Agenda is what the group does to support one style of play(set of aesthetic priorities) over all others.

Stop and digest for a moment.


Okay.  It's not hard to see personal examples for yourself and others where game groups make choices that support one thing over another, for example, many times a group will choose to roleplay a scene instead of rolling Negotiation, or vice versa.  These small decisions are based on a larger set of values- there is something being supported or not everytime one of these decisions is reached.  Over a period of time, you can begin to see a pattern of what things are supported and what things are not.  

For a group that is all on the same page, very often they won't even notice what values they are supporting as they have nothing to contrast them with.  A fish may not be the best source of information about water, as much as you or I might not know much about air, though we use it all the time.  The reason most people look to CA conflict as a source of what's going on, is that you see two different sets of values being consistantly represented and both highlight each other and become more visible as people try to negotiate what's happening.

But you don't need conflict to tell what's happening- you simply need to know what to look for.  As I mentioned in a different thread- knowing that an ice cream is made by Dreyers' doesn't tell you it's flavor.

If this concept makes sense to you, then the next thing would be to look at the basic identified GNS CAs and see if you can match any of what is being said to personal experience in play.  The theory here is grounded in concrete observation and examples- it wasn't made up by thinking- it was formed by watching people play, over and over in many different ways.  Just as much as gravity is an abstract concept unless you connect it to the action it has everyday, the theory here won't mean much unless you can connect it to actual play.

For most people, this is where the disconnect happens, as we've been taught to focus on the imaginary stuff and not the act of playing.

Does this help at all?



I don't think I understand, because what you describe doesn't match my own experience of play.  You state that you begin to see a pattern of what things are supported and what things are not, but in my experience, in long campaigns, a group settles into a rhythm of supporting different things from scene to scene.  If CA is to be meaningful to me, it has to be an attribute of SCENE rather than the entire group-history.
"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
                                     --Vincent Baker

Ron Edwards


Fred, I'd like to confirm that you've looked over my post above, and perhaps turned it over twice. You tend to skim and then rapidly type responses off of fast reactions.

Second, do recognize that much of what gets called "role-playing" tends to fail to achieve a coherent CA. I do not claim, and have never claimed, that any role-playing can be tagged by CA. Incoherence is probably the norm.

Third, your current struggles with understanding reward systems are absolutely linked to your struggling with the concept of Creative Agenda. They are the same issue.



Ron: Today, I'm sitting at work with nothing to do. If it seems like I'm responding quickly, it's because I have little else going on.  Recognize that I have plenty of time to read and digest every word to the extent that I am able.  Maybe I'm a little dense when it comes to understanding some of the things you post.  It's hard for me to respond to a big post that I don't understand, so I respond to the parts I understand and ask about the parts I don't understand. 

I can confirm that I have read the entire post, and made an attempt to understand the whole thing.

What do you mean by "what gets called "role-playing"?  Is a coherent CA a requirement for roleplaying?  Is adherence to one CA the only way to achieve coherency?  Is incoherency synonymous with "CA conflict"?
"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
                                     --Vincent Baker


Hi Fred,

QuoteIf CA is to be meaningful to me, it has to be an attribute of SCENE rather than the entire group-history.

That is rather like saying for "Campaign" to be meaningful, it has to be an attribute of SCENE rather than a culmination of scenes and sessions... Many concepts in roleplaying operate at a higher level than scene to scene.

CA is higher than scene to scene- it's at the level of "What do we think is 'good roleplaying'?"  "What system do we use?"  "What rules do we ignore or modify?"  "Who don't we want to play with, because we don't like their style?"

These questions are larger than scene to scene, you don't ask these questions at the outset of each scene- they're usually answered before, and modified during play.  You don't want to stop half-way through a session and completely restat your characters for a different system, you don't want to kick people out in mid-game, you don't want to have to make house rules in the middle of a combat.

These questions are all real questions that everyone answers through play- whether they recognize it or not.  The "rhythm" of different things you're talking about- the rhythm itself is what we're looking at.  Just because 3 different instruments play different notes at the same time doesn't mean you don't have a song happening.  How it all fits together- gives us a Creative Agenda.


Ron Edwards


QuoteWhat do you mean by "what gets called "role-playing"?  Is a coherent CA a requirement for roleplaying?  Is adherence to one CA the only way to achieve coherency?  Is incoherency synonymous with "CA conflict"?

Very good questions, and I can answer them. I really want to make sure we're communicating, so let me know if the answers work for you.

The "what gets called role-playing" part is phrased that way because different people have different boundaries for what they include in the hobby. Some activities are commonly called role-playing which don't seem to have much to do with other parts at all; some activities seem very much like what gets called role-playing, but are not included by anyone. So I'm specifying that I'm talking about a terminological or cultural grouping, rather than a well-defined set of related activities.

Whether a coherent CA is required for role-playing is largely a personal choice. For me? Yeah, which is to say, I don't wanna do it without one. But is it required for defining role-playing? The answer is "no," because role-playing as a term is more of a cultural label than an actual identifiable thing, as above.

Is a single CA required for coherence. Yes, but I must clarify. "Single CA" is not necessarily the same as Gamism only, Narrativism only, or Simulationism only. Theoretically, you can have hybrids and similar combinations, and each such thing is itself a single CA. However, in practice, typically a coherent CA is indeed Gamism only, etc, etc.

Is incoherence the same as CA conflict? Technically, no, it's not. It certainly means CA incompatibility, as well as the failure to achieve any CA at all. And under those circumstances, the people involved might come into conflict about it. But if they don't, for whatever reason, then they do play incoherently but do not have a CA-based conflict.

Chris, those were some good points.



Okay... Those answers make sense to me.

I'm building up to a CA that I see a lot in DnD play, but not a lot in other games, nor do I see it talked about on the Forge.  Provisionally, I'd like to call it "Adaptive."

Using a bit more shorthand than perhaps is wise, it works like this:

During combat scenes (and certain kinds of puzzles) we have a gamist agenda.
During most social scenes, we have a narrativist agenda.
Sometimes, we step into a kind of quick-time description, detailing events in a wider scope around the PC's.  This usually happens during "downtime" scenes in between more structured groups of scenes.

Each type of scene has its own reward cycle.

This creative agenda is never stated, but everyone seems to understand it.  Only rarely does anyone contradict it.
"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
                                     --Vincent Baker


Hi Fred,

You're describing incoherent play.  D&D3e combat does tend to reward gamist play (at the most basic level, the risk inherent in the rules can provide lots of opportunities to Step On Up.)  Meanwhile, the rules for social interaction rewards are much vaguer (XP rewards determined by GM)  It's not suprising that this mechanism can be drifted to any of the three CAs.  Finally, the kind of "quick-time description, detailing events in a wider scope around the PC's you describe could easily be exploration without agenda, or it may sometimes be in service of developing situation so your group can further some agenda or other. This is a perfect example of un-unifed reward systems. 

I think you might recall that there are instances when you or the group have to compromise between the results you like in combat and those you like in the social arena.  This is the sort of conflict that arises from an un-unified reward system.  This kind of incoherance, can, but does not always, lead to inter-player conflict.  Most groups are used to this kind of schizophrenia and do compromise to produce game sessions they each can enjoy some of the time. 

However, if the game has a unified reward system, focussed on a single CA, more people enjoy themselves more.  The value of such focus is twofold 1) less opportunity for inter-player misunderstanding, and 2) greater concentration of enjoyable moments.  I gotta tell you, from personal experience, playing a game with a consistent reward system is a step above even the best managed incoherent play.

Adaption is a response to CA incoherence.  I don't think it qualifies as a CA in itself.

- Alan

A Writer's Blog:


Quote from: Vaxalon on July 27, 2005, 12:03:37 AM
Okay... Those answers make sense to me.

But not to me.

Ron, all of those words you're using, I know them, but put together in the order that you just did, they produce a nice big patch of static in my mind. I will now attempt to make a series of true statements. Please point out to me where my thinking stops being in-line with the model.

Gamism, Narrativism, and Simulationism are three distinct styles of play.  Creative Agenda is an abstract term used to randomly reference a member of the set {G,N,S}. Therefore, a Creative Agenda is a style of play. A style of play is what I - an individual gamer - do during a game to maximize my entertainment. This entails identifying what I enjoy, and taking action to bring it (whatever it happens to be) about.

If we're talking about what I think we are,the whole bit about CA being locked in for the long term, and most succesful play involving an X-only CA is just not true. People are complex. They are entertained by many varied things. They are moody. I not only have no problem with CA changing from week to week, even from scene to scene, I see it as being pretty much the norm. I think that if you restrict your play to one single CA for the duration of an entire game (i.e., however many sessions) you are in grave danger of monotony. All three CAs are important, all the time. They can be equally valued by a player, all the time. (By equally valued, I mean "likes them all about the same.") When there comes a mutually exclusive moment when one (or two) must be sacrificed, this is a *tough decision.* It's not an "oh, yeah OBVIOUSLY I'm gonna do this, everyone knows I'm <insert label here>."