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Author Topic: Teaching Creative Agenda  (Read 6880 times)
Paganini
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« on: July 27, 2005, 12:22:44 PM »

Moving on from this thread: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16126

I will admit up front that I am a bit peeved. I will be blunt. For the past four years I've watched this idea of Creative Agenda grow more and more vague; so much so that I sometimes wonder if even *Ron* has a clear idea of what it means. I've watched the concept fail to be taught effectively, to the point that people who are supposedly authorities can't even discuss without disagreeing over basic terms. (No, I'm not including myself as an authority, but I did think I had enough of a handle on it to help new members out. I am thinking of Ralph, though. And Mike.) I honestly think that this trend has been pretty extreme. We've gone from the Nar essay definition:

Edit: I feel the urge to clarify. I'm not, like, angry at any particular person. I am, maybe, a little annoyed by Ron's attitude, but that's not the peeved-ness to which I refer. I like the Big Model. I feel that I have personally benefited both from its existence, and from participating in its development. What bugs me is that I also feel that it's on the verge of self-destructing, especially the GNS part of it, and that practically every model-related thread these days is giving it this "oh, there's nothing wrong with the model, it's all a reading comprehension issue" treatment. The model needs to change, not randomly or vaguely so that everyone has to wonder if what he's saying still means what he thinks it does, but in a clear, structured way, so that we regain our mutual shared understanding; so we have something common to point to to say "here's how it is, here's what we're building on." If this means sacrificing backwards compaitility with previous material, that is cool. But we need... standardization. We need a "this is old stuff, here's the new explanation" sign.

Quote from: Nar Essay
Creative Agenda is the blanket term for people's demonstrated goals and desired feedback during play. In the past, I called it "GNS." Since all of this is enclosed in Social Contract, GNS-stuff is not only "what I want" but also "what I want from role-playing with this group of people." Since Exploration necessarily includes System, that means, as soon as we start talking about Creative Agenda, real play has begun.

To the Glossary definition:

Quote from: Glossary
The aesthetic priorities and any matters of imaginative interest regarding role-playing.

Quote from: Ron
I think that the concept of aesthetics is straightforward, unless one is hopelessly mired in PoMo babble in which anything is aesthetics and everything is economics and so forth. Now, I'm willing to meet you halfway and say that the Glossary definition doesn't work for some percent of readers. It works a hell of a lot better than anything we had before, which was the sole purpose of the Glossary anyway. But yeah, I'm going to help people who want to talk about it, just as in this thread.

But "I don't get it" isn't going to fly. People have to try to get it, as written, and then ask specific questions. Like, "what's imaginative interest," and so on, like you just did. Those are good questions. Maybe you could have tried asking them a long time ago.

So, are we gonna talk semantics, or what? A definition is an answer to the question "what does that mean?" It's not supposed to prompt that question. I don't think, at this point, that I should have to try and get it. I am willing to try to get it if I need to (see below), and I always have been. The problem here is not a lack of mental effort. In theory, I got it long before the glossary was written. I shouldn't have to ask questions to understand the glossary, because the glossary should contain a description of something that I *already know.* Don't misunderstand. I'm not claiming that I get it just because I think I'm a smart guy. I'm claiming that I get it because in past discussions among Forge posters (including Ron!) mutual agreement was achieved. We all agreed that we'd all gotten it; then we moved on to build more complex structures on top of our shared axiom.

But, somewhere between the Nar essay and the Glossary, the term Creative Agenda has morphed to mean something else. This new meaning is contained in a one-line definition that is so vague that it cannot, on its own, convey any information. I know what "aesthetics" means; I know what "imaginative" and "interest" mean. But I no longer think I know what *Ron* means.

I'm a teacher. My job is to convey abstract structures of technique and theory to my students to the point of practical application; that is, my teaching results result in actual performance. So, as one teacher to another, I'm going to pose an educational challenge that I hope may be constructive.

Ron, take this thread; use it to teach me what you mean by Creative Agenda, in practical terms, to the point where I can explain it back to you to your satisfaction, using my own words. Facilitate my understanding!
« Last Edit: July 27, 2005, 12:38:31 PM by Paganini » Logged

Eric Provost
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« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2005, 12:33:17 PM »

Consider me the first student in the auditorium.  I'm ready with a notebook, pen, and open mind. 

I want this to turn into something that I can use to explain CAs in a single night's discussion over BBQ ribs and beer.  I want to be able to finish the semester in the school of the Forge with a paper titled something like "The CAs and what they mean to my games."

I'm in the same boat.  Every time I think I'm beginning to understand what's going on with the GNS theory somone says something that contradicts what I thought I knew... Then someone else backs them up and I'm adrift again.  I'm looking forward to a shared understanding of what the fuck's going on.

-Eric
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2005, 01:00:29 PM »

I buy it.

Give me a bit to collect myself and to try my best.

Best,
Ron
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Alan
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« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2005, 01:03:44 PM »

Here's some thoughts from my understanding:

Creative Agenda:

1) refers to observable behavior

2) occures as a pattern, over time, not lone examples.

3) refers to demonstrated preference for one situation of players and imaginary elements over another. 

We might think of a specific set of rules, with a specific set of players, as an ecology that tends to sprout situations among the players and the imaginary elements.  An individual creative agenda (G, N, or S) can be understood as evidence of working to foster a particular _kind_ of situation at the table. 




« Last Edit: July 27, 2005, 01:05:25 PM by Alan » Logged

- Alan

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Paganini
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« Reply #4 on: July 27, 2005, 01:19:04 PM »

Ron, excellent and most cool. I am looking forward to this.

<rubbing hands in anticipation>
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: July 27, 2005, 01:32:36 PM »

You guys are gonna hate this, but I'm going to answer first through referral.

The single moment when I think I really said all I wanted to, and all I could, was in GNS: what is it? (it's short; I have two useful posts in it).

I think Lisa's thread Gaming On Purpose nails the same thing incredibly clearly and concisely. I agree with everything she says. Gordon offers his version, which I also think is excellent, in One opinion on why and how GNS matters. And Vincent's entire Role-playing theory, hard-core is right in line with my thinking too.

So, uh, that's all I got. I can't say it any better than I did in that one thread. Those three other sources are the best and most straightforward versions by others that I can remember.

What I can do, here in this thread, is deal with specific questions and concerns that arise out of what's said in these four sources. I'm willing.

Best,
Ron
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Paganini
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« Reply #6 on: July 27, 2005, 03:52:14 PM »

Cool, Ron.

I think I'm having trouble with the part where a Creative Agenda is a group quality.

A while back, before the term Creative Agenda had been coined, the Main Message of GNS was that different people like different things, right? Say, we've got two guys who are arguing over what actual play should be like. Maybe one guy wants more combat scenes than the other guy, or one guy wants to play strictly by the printed rules, while the other guy wants to just gloss over some rules, or something. Anyway, they're having a disagreement. GNS said that, at the core of the disagreement is that each guy has an idea about what actual play should be like that conflicts with the other guy's idea. The actual disagreement might be about some specific technique or whatever, but the root of the problem lies in the fact that the two guys care about different things. The battle cry of GNS was that each guy wants a different play experience, but neither guy wants something that is invalid.

The reason that each guy has his own idea of what role-playing looks like is that, almost exclusively, people are taught how to role-play by their friends, who probably learned to role-play form *their* friends, or from a vaguely worded, contradictory game-text. The upshot is that every gamer has learned to game in a cellular environment that is convinced that its own method of play (including solving the problems posed by the contradictions in vaguely worded contradictory game texts) is the actual correct one that the originator of role-playing games (whoever he is) intended.

What I took away from GNS was that people have different ideas of what an RPG experience should be like. So, the way to have good RPG experiences is to find people who have the same ideas as you do. Or, just maybe, since "different" doesn't mean "invalid," you can try the other guy's way of doing it, and maybe have fun doing it that way, too.

That "idea of what an RPG experience should be like" was what I mentally associated with the term Creative Agenda, when it was coined, replacing the old "style of play" and "mode of play" terms.

Now, when you get down to the details of what an actual single Creative Agenda looks like, it's defined much more specifically than just "what an RPG experience should be like." Since we're talking about a social activity, an RPG experience includes things like how clean the hosts's bathroom is, what toppings are on the pizza, and so on. The CAs are particularly talking about the "imagining stuff" part of the RPG experience. (Exploration, I think everyone agrees, is the Main Thing when role-playing, right?)

The "imagining stuff" part of the RPG experience includes both what stuff we imagine, and the method we use to arrive at the point where we have imagined that stuff, whatever it is. Since we know that all possibilities are equally valid, we can't say how or what we *should* imagine. Instead, we say that this is the stuff we've decided to imagine, and this is how we've decided to imagine it. The "stuff that we've decided to imagine" is the fictional content that we're going to be inserting into the SiS. The "how we've decided to imagine it" is the system of social interactions that we use as a method for deciding what that fictional content actually is. Good so far?

So, the three actual CAs are specific instances of "how" and "what" that are defined by the importance given to specific attributes of the fictional content. Namely, gamism is linked to showing up your friends, simulationism is linked to maintaining causality, narrativism is linked to creating theme. It seems to me that each CA is something that's individually identified. If I've decided that showing up my friends is what's important, then that doesn't say anything about the group as a whole. I have to check out the CA of every other person in the group first. If the other guys are more interested in preserving causality than showing up their friends, we may run into some arguments like the two guys way up at the top of this post. Or maybe we're civilized guys, and we realize that no one is really "breaking the rules," so we don't yell at each other, but we just keep on playing without ever really having that much fun.

But if we're all on the same page about showing each other up, then we get down to business.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: July 27, 2005, 07:25:52 PM »

Hi there,

A bunch of planets must have lined up or something, because unless I'm way off, I think I can answer this with no sweat, no suffering, no nothing ... and then maybe we can hug or something.

It's best expressed in GNS thread, when Dan Cross asked almost exactly the same question. I hope you don't mind checking out yet another thread, but I'll pull out this part here:

Quote
What I’m saying is that we each have an individual drive toward seeing a CA realized socially. A wholly individualized CA is nonsensical in applied terms.

If you analogize it to a sporting activity, I think that might help. In a fully functional event of this kind, we all bring the desire to play … but that desire only makes sense (gets raised, gets satisfied) when it’s expanded into an across-individuals social construct.

Now for the “clustering” thing – since RPGs are not like sports in that different CAs are not only possible but likely, we have a lot of diversity out there.

So we have to deal with two kinds of “clustering” – one, the social one, which is to say how we communicate and agree upon (possibly compromise) upon the CA. As people here know, I suggest that maintaining the social connection but failing explicitly to support a group CA is by and large less satisfying – even though it seems to be something of a subcultural ideal for gamers. I call this Incoherent play, and my claim is that it is more vulnerable to failure (“un-fun” dysfunctional play). Not doomed to such failure, but more vulnerable to it.

It's very understandable that all of our early talk about CA was highly individualized ... it was liberating to "admit" that we brought different approaches and expectation to the table, and to be proud of what we each were after, after all those years of confusion or subordinating our actual needs. Of course we all went bonkers talking about specific individuals and specific games.

But that sports analogy works really well. When we talk about seeing a CA, actually, and when we talk about satisfying it, then we gotta get social. The dialogue here moved past just saying, "Gee, I'm all Gamist, no wonder Bob and I are always at one another's throats about playing right." That was good, back then, and you benefited from it, and I did, and so on. But now we are past that. We are now talking about getting skilled at facilitating the CA to happen, and you know what? You can't just do it "for yourself." When it happens and when it's good, it has to have moved into that social space.

Is that a good answer? 'Cause I think it's a really good answer. It acknowledges why you see things the way you do and are puzzled about how it's changed, whereas I don't think it's changed, I think it's moved into the fruitful direction I always wanted it to, but was bogged down by individual diversity and the plaintive cries that always emerged from that. But I'm not saying that you're wrong, you see.

Best,
Ron
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Paganini
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« Reply #8 on: July 27, 2005, 10:05:59 PM »

A bunch of planets must have lined up or something, because unless I'm way off, I think I can answer this with no sweat, no suffering, no nothing ... and then maybe we can hug or something.

Hehehe.

Quote
Is that a good answer? 'Cause I think it's a really good answer. It acknowledges why you see things the way you do and are puzzled about how it's changed, whereas I don't think it's changed, I think it's moved into the fruitful direction I always wanted it to, but was bogged down by individual diversity and the plaintive cries that always emerged from that. But I'm not saying that you're wrong, you see.

I think it's a good answer.

I also think that there might be more to say. Here's what's on my mind right now (on my mind, as in, I am contemplating, but not making an argument yet):

So, we've gone from "CA Conflict = Bad" to "CA Focus = Good."

"Creative Agenda" tends to work really well when we treat it as a Big Abstract Thing - when you talk about whole reward cycles, satisfying long-term play, and so on. The thing is, actual play is not a Big Abstract Thing. It's a sequence of specific events. After a night of unsatisfying gaming, there has to be one, or two, or *some number* of points where a single participant can say "gee, if something different could have happened there it would sure have been better." You can't have an unsatisfying actual play experience without there being specific moments (maybe, probably, a lot of them) that made it so, can you?

Preferable alternatives are still evaluated based on the same old GNS priorities, right? Whatever it was that "sure would have been better" still depends on whether or not friends were out-done, theme was produced, or causality was demonstrated. How can a Creative Agenda apply to an instance of play (an entire reward cycle), without also applying to instants of play (specific during-play moments)?

Are we just talking about statistics now? There were more instants where the production of theme was emphasized than there were instants where causality was demonstrated or friends were outdone?

Because, I think Fred is correct that they're all important, and that we switch our focus around from one to another all the time, from session to sesssion, even from scene to scene. I don't think this is a bad thing. A certain amount of each is required as... "background noise" just to keep interest.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: July 28, 2005, 05:51:16 AM »

Hey,

We have to establish something about this conversation. You ask X, and my answer satisfies you - then you ask Y, and I answer. If you then pop up with Z, I hope you can see that my motivation to answer is diminishing rapidly.

In other words, a one-line "OK, cool" isn't enough. I'm not looking for praise, but I am looking for a good, solid, paraphrase-based acknowledgment that my answer did in fact work for you.

There are a couple of reasons for this. (1) is simply my own human satisfaction with the whole thing, which means I'll be willing to keep doing it. (2) is to kick the widespread misperception that "GNS makes no sense" in the nuts. (Side note: I'm damn tired of having someone PM me "Oh, hey, that's perfect, it's making perfect sense now," when the public dialogue with someone else is clearly frustrating and inconclusive for them. I have hundreds of such PMs. They serve no community purpose at all. Fuckin' speak up in public, people.)

In this case, your phrasing of "moved from GNS conflict Bad to GNS-focus Good" is a perfect and wonderful example. I'm requesting that you keep up that kind of acknowledgment, when it applies, and perhaps consider saying something like, "Yes, that answers my question, thank you." And then, deep breath, "New question."

Or maybe even better, take that new question to a new thread. Thus each thread has its own little Inquiry Arc, rather than being like an interrogation which skips onto a new thing when the prisoner can't be broken by the previous thing.

I am assuming that your first question in this thread, about "what is GNS, teach me," has been satisfied. Yes?

And that your second question about individual/social has been satisfied. Yes?

From now on, no more skip-to-new questions. I'll answer this third one here, but let's call that a full (over-full) thread and slow down that pace, all right?

Quote
How can a Creative Agenda apply to an instance of play (an entire reward cycle), without also applying to instants of play (specific during-play moments)?

Are we just talking about statistics now? There were more instants where the production of theme was emphasized than there were instants where causality was demonstrated or friends were outdone?

To answer the first question, dude, it just does. A dog is not made of cells which each resemble the miniature dog. Lots and lots of things, in reality, are made of components which are not miniature versions of the overall thing. The thing's identity only exists and is defined by the interactions among the components.*

In role-playing, let's say my character in Extreme Vengeance (John Milocek, best and toughest Polish-American B-movie actor ever) gets enough EPs to level up, which is part of that game's system.

"Oooh!" says the instant-focused person. "Gamist!"

Nope, only Gamist if it's servicing the Gamist Agenda, which we cannot tell without looking at the whole cycle

 - what I did to see that character level up
- how others responded to what I did
- whether levelling up is even privileged by any sort of attention relative to other features of play
- and more

To clarify that "privileged" item, I've been in games where levelling up was a distraction, and I've been in games where it was central. How can you tell? By backing up and seeing the levelling up in context of everything else, both procedural (how the game works) and social/interactive.

Also, no, democracy is not the answer. People have presented that idea in the past, and I've always hated it - what I'm saying is that no atomism is suitable in discussing these issues. That's another reason why I disavowed the GNS Personality Test from the get-go, because it focused on instants of resolution and narration. Look at the whole cycles, one minimum (more is better), and you'll quickly see how Techniques operate in great big families of interacting parts, like organ systems.

Best,
Ron

* For those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, this is a hard-core evolutionary biologist talking. The genetic profile of that dog, in each cell, is not a "dog." You only get a dog when all the parts, genetic and up through multiple levels of cause and feedback, are interacting.
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Paganini
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« Reply #10 on: July 28, 2005, 08:57:20 AM »

In other words, a one-line "OK, cool" isn't enough. I'm not looking for praise, but I am looking for a good, solid, paraphrase-based acknowledgment that my answer did in fact work for you.

There are a couple of reasons for this. (1) is simply my own human satisfaction with the whole thing, which means I'll be willing to keep doing it. (2) is to kick the widespread misperception that "GNS makes no sense" in the nuts. (Side note: I'm damn tired of having someone PM me "Oh, hey, that's perfect, it's making perfect sense now," when the public dialogue with someone else is clearly frustrating and inconclusive for them. I have hundreds of such PMs. They serve no community purpose at all. Fuckin' speak up in public, people.)

In this case, your phrasing of "moved from GNS conflict Bad to GNS-focus Good" is a perfect and wonderful example. I'm requesting that you keep up that kind of acknowledgment, when it applies, and perhaps consider saying something like, "Yes, that answers my question, thank you." And then, deep breath, "New question."

You bet. Confirmation feedback kinda was the whole point of thread, to me. If you notice, "OK, Cool" was in response to "Go read this bunch of threads, some of which will answer your question," while "moved from GNS conflict Bad to GNS-focus Good" was in response to your specific explaining. So, take the body of my <counts>  3rd post, leading up to the group CA question as my image of those posts, coupled with some of my past Forge experiences.

Quote
I am assuming that your first question in this thread, about "what is GNS, teach me," has been satisfied. Yes?

Yes.

Quote
And that your second question about individual/social has been satisfied. Yes?

No. Well, maybe. I think I was mucking up the second question (social vs. individual) with bagage from the third question (instance vs. instant)

* Paganini does a little mental separation between individual vs. group CA, and short instant vs. long instance CA.

OK. Long instance vs. short instant. Let's say that every game has moments when theme is intentionally produced, when causality is mindfully preserved, when the other players are crowed-over. (This may not be true, but it's at least possible that any game could have multiple moments of all three.) Some of these moments may involve sacrificing one or two of the others in order to get the one you want. Like, you may have to accept something that doesn't make sense, in order get the theme-producing scene you want. This is all part of the... um... OId Theory, and it's still good, right?

So (heads up, here comes your confirmation), these moments are not only not CA-indicative, they're unrelated to CA. That they focus on the same issues that the CA focus on is incidental. In just the same way that theme in a transcript is insufficient to identify narrativism, it doesn't matter how many moments of (say) causality reenforcement you have in your game - it could be millions of them and still not be simulationism.

The Sim CA does depend on those causal moments being there (you can't have the Sim CA without a bunch of causal moments), but you can *also* have a bunch of causal moments *without* having the Sim CA. This is quite a bit different from the Old Theory, right? We used to look long and hard for moments where one of the three issues was serviced at the expense of the other two. Only once we'd found such a moment could we say we'd found a CA-indicative data-point. I guess that brings us down to how *do* we identify CA over the long term? That one most definitely needs a separate thread.

*

Now then, individual vs. group. If this group concept of CA means, like, making a big list of the differences and similarities that each player's um... personal CA has when compared the CA of each other player, and trying to maximize the similarities while minimizing the differences, then I am cool. We're moving from generalizations (how people think) to practical applications (how to get better play). Is this a fair characterization of the sports analogy?

But if CA is a feature of play, rather than of people - that is, it just simply doesn't exist until we get a bunch of people together and start making stuff up - then I remain mystified. I guess, the main thing here is, can CA be considered a pre-condition or not? Here's me, getting ready for a game. I'm in my room, all by myself (so, no social context yet, no actual play) thinking about what I want to get out of the game, and how I'm going to go about getting it. Do I have a Creative Agenda yet? I realize that - regardless of any verbal claim I may make - no one can know what my CA is until I pay the piper with actual play. But, my future enjoyment of the game depends  on CA-related properties of the SiS. (That is, say, I'm going to enjoy the game more if I can personaly create theme via exercising my in-game options than I am if I can't do that.) So, unless I completely don't care about the contents of the SiS (I'm playing just cos I I want to make stuff up, I don't care what - or I don't really care about making stuff up even, I just want my friends to tell me I'm cool) it seems like there has to be some CA-related preconception that each player has, individualy, before actual play begins demonstrating what that preconception is, and how it matches (or varies from) the CA-related preconceptions of the other players.
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lumpley
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« Reply #11 on: July 28, 2005, 09:57:31 AM »

OK. Long instance vs. short instant. Let's say that every game has moments when theme is intentionally produced, when causality is mindfully preserved, when the other players are crowed-over. (This may not be true, but it's at least possible that any game could have multiple moments of all three.) Some of these moments may involve sacrificing one or two of the others in order to get the one you want. Like, you may have to accept something that doesn't make sense, in order get the theme-producing scene you want. This is all part of the... um... OId Theory, and it's still good, right?

...The Sim CA does depend on those causal moments being there (you can't have the Sim CA without a bunch of causal moments), but you can *also* have a bunch of causal moments *without* having the Sim CA. This is quite a bit different from the Old Theory, right? We used to look long and hard for moments where one of the three issues was serviced at the expense of the other two. Only once we'd found such a moment could we say we'd found a CA-indicative data-point.

Nope. That's a persistent misunderstanding of the theory. It's been with us a long time, but it's never been right.

Not to say that you aren't noticing a change in something, just not in the theory.

I'm stepping in because I said this as clearly as I could a year ago: "Sacrificing Character Integrity" - a Rant. I'll understand if my say-so isn't enough and you want to wait for Ron to confirm or deny.

-Vincent
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ffilz
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« Reply #12 on: July 28, 2005, 10:13:11 AM »

Hmm, not sure why, but this thread really has flashbulbs going off in my head...

A possibly helpful analogy I can see is that of movie genres and peoples preferences. We can only identify someone's preferences by looking at their reaction to many movies. Jiust because Fred liked Die Hard doesn't mean he likes action films.

I think we can generally assume that someone likes a particular CA if we have examples of their play in a game which is a good example of that CA, and they're definitely enjoying it, and living the CA with all cylinders firing. But if someone has never enjoyed a Narativist game, we can't say they don't like Narativist games. They might not have liked the game because it was a poor example of Narativism. Or the themes created may not have interested them. Or they may have been tired that day.

So I think you can say, "Gee, I feel like a gamist game today, I think I'll call Fred who has indicated he likes gamist play, and Jane who was in the thick of it that last gamist game with all cylinders firing." But we can't tell the resulting game is gamist until we actually see results from it. You might gather the group together and Jane fires off a big huge premise and all of a sudden you're creating theme with a Narativist game.

By understanding the theory, we can improve our chances of getting a good game of the type we want, and we can also improve our analysis of why a particular game was good or bad.

Frank
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Frank Filz
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« Reply #13 on: July 28, 2005, 10:46:12 AM »

Hi Ron,

I just wanted to say that I found your "Cells to Dog" analogy exceptionally useful and may find myself using it in the future to explain the concept of dealing with Creative Agenda to folks I know.  I also think that switching the forum to "Ask Ron" probably will be a good choice, as more than half the confusion seems to seep out from folks telling each other what they think is going on, having not really read any of  it.

Chris
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Paganini
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« Reply #14 on: July 28, 2005, 05:15:05 PM »

Vincent, normally I would be delighted to engage you in any form of discussion on any RPG-related subject. However, the purpose of *this specific thread* is to be a teaching venue for Ron.

I'm kinda... trying to shake things up a little, in hopes that we can discount the notion that the Big Model is a mass of incomprehensable nonsense, and, ideally, keep it from *becoming* a mass of incomprehensable nonsense, which I fear it is in danger of doing. And if I can further my own understanding of individual vs. group CA, well WOOHOO!
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