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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: The Sim Nar Blur  (Read 9328 times)
Anna B
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« on: January 17, 2006, 03:46:36 PM »

So I get Sim - but then I'm the kind of person who watched The Matrix and thought "wait that volates the second law of thermodynamics! What are the computers really up to?"{*} (I do similar things with other pieces of fiction)

Nar on the other hand confuses me. Mostly because I not sure what counts as addressing the premise. If a character makes a moral choice in character is it Nar or Sim? I think the answer is it depends, but on what?

Here are some examples of play that confuses me:

I a D&D game (3.0) that I played several years ago, we killed a bunch of Lizardmen at their base. We then found a some Lizardbabies. They weren't evil (silly Paladins) and they would not survive on their own. So we had to decide what to do. One player acting in character decided to take responsibility for them. So we dragged around the unfriendly Lizardbabies for several adventures.

In a recent PTA game my character chose to take a risk to her wellbeing rather than throw a refugee off the ship. It was very in character for her, but OOC I also thought the situation was interesting. (I didn't really think about it, I just did it and it turned out cool)

In both cases moral choices where made in character, other choices could have been made. I'm not sure if they are Nar or Sim though I suspect the latter is Nar only because of the system used.







{*}My friends reaction to this is either "you are right, I think..." or "Who cares? It's not part of the story."
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2006, 04:26:54 PM »

Hello,

Well, we have a couple of things to deal with, here.

The first thing is that none of your examples give any clues about Creative Agenda. We'd have to back up and talk about what I call reward cycles, which some people are now calling reinforcement (just as good). We'll get there in a minute.

The second thing, just to get it resolved and out of the way, is a misunderstanding that a lot of people used to run into more often. Here's the right way to look at it: "playing in character" is not a Simulationist act. You can act out your character, make decisions without thinking about it based on what the character "would do," and even feel like your character, and none of that is by itself Simulationist. These are techniques that people do or don't use when involved in role-playing, and whether they use them, and how much, does not dictate Simulationism.

So how do you recognize a Creative Agenda. As I said, let's check out reward cycles. They're easiest to explain when the people are playing a game with numeric changes in their characters that don't occur very often - like leveling up in D&D, or accumulating enough points finally to buy a given power in the Hero System. Think about someone's character undergoing such a change, and look at the whole set of play that's occurred since the last such change. What did the player actually do that resulted in that happening? What rules were especially utilized in that process, and which were ignored or underused, if any? What acts did they direct the character to do, and how did the rest of the group respond to those acts? How does the group respond to the change?

You'll find that the answers quickly and easily add up to one of the Creative Agendas. You'll also find that there is no "blur" between Simulationist and Narrativist approaches. In fact, the two that look most similar tend to be Narrativism and Gamism.

For games in which the changes to the characters are more constant, and in which the resolution system tends to feed back right into the character sheet quickly, then you should look at situations the character is involved in, like a town when playing Dogs in the Vineyard or a Kicker when playing Sorcerer. Resolving these things sets the "cycle" you can examine for all of the same questions.

Let's check out that D&D game you described. Did the characters who babysat the lizardbabies gain any experience for doing so? How much, compared to the creatures they killed or money they gained during that same period? Did the lizardbabies make it harder to gain experience points? Did all of these occur during a time when the characters all stayed at their given level, or did any of them increase their levels during that time?

Or the PTA game, same types of questions, only more situationally-based. When your character saved the refugee, was that during her Spotlight Episode? If not, then did it occur before or after her Spotlight Episode was due? Did the action tie into the character's issue or not? If not, did it tie into someone else's issue, and if so, how did they respond to it? Did you get any Fanmail for saving the refugee? Why or why not?

And in each case, it would also help to know a little bit about the people in the groups. How do they act toward one another during play? A lot of laughter, or teasing (not always a bad thing)? Does everyone talk more-or-less the same amount? Do you take breaks, or is it one continuous push of play? Is anyone dating anyone else, or married within the group? Do people hug? Does anyone every get cranky, and if so, does it tend to be the same person in the same way? Any of that sort of thing.

It's important to know that stuff because it's the social scene that helps us to recognize when the reward cycle's kicking in and when it's "blocked." And the creative, imaginative content of the reward cycle is Creative Agenda - so once you understand that, spotting Creative Agenda is easy as pie.

Best,
Ron
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Anna B
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« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2006, 10:58:53 PM »

OK, I'm still confused, but thank you for taking time to explain it to me. Hopefully if keep I working at it things will become clearer. I think need to find a better metaphorical place to stand so I can have a clear view.

I don't think I was talking about feeling like the character, and other actor stance techniques so much as deciding to take an in game action because "that's what the character would do" {*}. The difference between Sim with character focus and a being in character is still unclear to me.

The D&D game is old enough that I don't trust my memory, but I don't believe that taking care of lizardbabies got any exp. reward. Looking at reward cycles, that game was definitely gamest. Combat was the most rewarded activity, though some roleplaying exp. was given. However both the GM and the player who took care of the lizardbabies had a lot of fun with the scenario.

In that group it's fairly common to do things we thing are fun even if the system doesn't reward it. Maybe this is dysfunctional.  In an Arcana Evolved game I play now that has some overlap in players. (The GM played in the D&D game, and the DM is a player) I spend a lot of time working on my character house, even though I get no exp. for it. The former DM and I also spend a fair amount of time roleplaying minor details of our characters' friendship. We bicker about what to eat, buy each other small gifts, cheer eachother on in contests, etc. We don't get exp for any of this, we just think it's fun.{**} So I'm not sure mechanical reward cycles always reflect the CA.

On to the PTA game. This was our first time playing any Forge game. Elliot, the producer, and I are much more excited about theory stuff them the other two players L and C{***}. Both L and I are dating C.  I met both Elliot and L at the Changeling LARP C and I ran about 3 years ago.  We are now all part of game design collective (with some other friends), a part of the idea of running PTA was to try new things for inspiration/research.  L, C, and I have been meeting on Fridays to game for about year now. Elliot has wanted to come but has only recently been able to make it regularly.

So it was the pilot episode.Saving the refugee did address my character's issue (trying to regain honnor) , but I felt that the flashback that resulted, form her failure to deal with hyperspace was much more fun and intersting. She flasked back to the event that caused her dishonnor. I got fan mail for the flaskback, I don't think I got fan mail for the just saving the refugee. (We were new at this so we were having some trouble getting used to fanmail.)



{*}Sadly I think this statement has been used to justify a fair amount of disfunctional play.

{**} Some socail context: I've been friends with this player 5 or 6 years but I only really hang out with him at games. I met him at a Changeling LARP (my first rpg ever), then played in his D&D game, later he was player and a narrator in my Changeling LARP but quit when we had a big fight over how the rules worked. I was a little reluctant to play the AE game with him because of that, but there haven't been any problems. He's a very sweet person, but has gruff persona.

{***} I'm not sure they want their names bandied about online.
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2006, 11:42:54 PM »

Welcome to the Forge, Anna!

I'll let Ron describe Sim because he's getting at something specific, but I'll comment on this:

Quote
So it was the pilot episode.Saving the refugee did address my character's issue (trying to regain honnor) , but I felt that the flashback that resulted, form her failure to deal with hyperspace was much more fun and intersting. She flasked back to the event that caused her dishonnor. I got fan mail for the flaskback, I don't think I got fan mail for the just saving the refugee. (We were new at this so we were having some trouble getting used to fanmail.)

... that says to me that you are receiving resources for addressing the premise your character was designed to address. Ergo, PTA is a design that supports a Narrativist creative agenda. When you have an elaborate backstory for your D&D character, but you get all your XP for killing monsters and defeating evil wizards, it doesn't. Not because you can't address premise by killing monsters and defeating evil wizards, but because those things do not, in and of themselves, make a premise, and those actions are what the D&D system covers competently.

Quote
In that group it's fairly common to do things we thing are fun even if the system doesn't reward it. ...The former DM and I also spend a fair amount of time roleplaying minor details of our characters' friendship. We bicker about what to eat, buy each other small gifts, cheer eachother on in contests, etc. We don't get exp for any of this, we just think it's fun.{**} So I'm not sure mechanical reward cycles always reflect the CA.

Well, if what you're doing is outside of the reward cycle, it's outside of the rules of Dungeons & Dragons, but is clearly part of the game you're actually playing. What you've done is establish a set of rules that are unrelated to a significant degree from the rules in the book. The rules are probably unspoken, but they're there nonetheless: "if I don't have my dude bicker with your dude appropriately, I've broken our social contract," and that has consequences just like if you decide to use a d30 instead of a d20: no one knows what you're doing, the rules don't work, and nothing can happen in the game until the players are again in agreement about how things work.

Vincent Baker wrote a really great essay on his blog a while back that addresses this type of issue. Given your concerns here, I think you'll dig it. It's the second one down on this page here. The other stuff's interesting, too, but not as relevant to the concerns you've expressed.

I look forward to the products of your exploration of these issues!
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2006, 06:03:00 AM »

Hello,

We're getting somewhere good in this discussion. I want to demonstrate that you're agreeing with me, not disagreeing, about the reward cycles.

You see, "reward" is never, and can never, be described strictly in terms of numbers and points. All mechanics rewards in role-playing (which are techniques), are only really rewards if they work socially and creatively.

The relationship between mechanics-rewards, textual game rules, and actual social/creative rewards is complex. Sometimes all three are exactly the same thing. Sometimes they are totally disconnected. In some groups, the mechanics-rewards are carried out, but aren't very important to the actual social and creative rewards and reinforcements that are going on. It depends very greatly on the individual group.

A lot of people seem to think that when I talk about "reward," I only mean the points and stuff like that. Nope - I mean the real-people stuff, the interactions. But we have to consider all three of the parts at once, to see how they interrelate for that particular group, in order to understand what's going on. Ignoring a levels/points mechanic is just as important, for the group that does it, as following it is in the group which does that.

All of my questions were directed toward thinking about how the three things are connected, or disconnected, in your examples of play. If the leveling and experience-points were not part of your group's use/play of D&D, then what did you use as the real reward system? Saying "fun" is too vague; something was exchanged among members of the group to indicate social and creative reward, even if it was only smiles and repeated appreciation for that session afterwards, perhaps for years.

We can't talk about Creative Agenda until we know what that reward system is. The more you post about what it's like to play in your group, what happens with the characters, and how that turns out in general, the better we (including you) can apply the points that I make in my essays.

Let's go back to your first question, with that in mind. I recognize that when you say, "in character," you aren't talking about Actor stance or speaking with an accent. You're talking about directing the actions of the character based on what the character would do. And you're not talking about the dysfunctional situation in which a player simply repeats that phrase as a form of obstruction. I understand that.

Here's my point: playing in this way will not automatically pop the play-experience into Simulationism. That's not what a Creative Agenda is. You can play this way, and we still have to find out other stuff in order to talk about Narrativism, Gamism, and Simulationism for you and this group. The other stuff is all about how rewards and reinforcements happen during play. The other aspects of System (character creation, how events are resolved, who talks when, and more) are all like a support structure for that to happen.

How's that work? Make more sense, less sense, or sort-of sense?

Best,
Ron
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« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2006, 07:16:41 AM »

All of my questions were directed toward thinking about how the three things are connected, or disconnected, in your examples of play. If the leveling and experience-points were not part of your group's use/play of D&D, then what did you use as the real reward system? Saying "fun" is too vague; something was exchanged among members of the group to indicate social and creative reward, even if it was only smiles and repeated appreciation for that session afterwards, perhaps for years.

In the case of specifying "fun" in the Lizardbabies report, I'm thinking that the Impro ideas that Neel Krishnaswami frequently references may apply. Anna says that the player and GM both had fun, right? My guess, and I'd love to hear confirmation or refutation from Anna is that this translated among other things into a series of adds rather than blocks.

Two situations:

1) Player keeps bringing up the Lizardbabies. GM pushes through Lizardbaby action as quickly as possible. Body language is dismissive, tone of voice is brusque, the clapboard clangs down hard and early on Lizardbaby scenes. (Or, passive-aggressively, GM just sits back and lets things *hang there* every time the player wants to talk about LBs.)

2) Player brings up Lizardbabies. GM's response is lively and energetic. He readily incorporates the player's "offer" into the fiction. He builds on it. Perhaps even more importantly, the GM starts making Lizardbaby offers that inspire the Paladin player to respond with adds of his own. The GM further incorporates the player's responses into a virtuous circle of fiction-creation. (A GM who wasn't into the lizardbaby business might strategically make offers the player was inclined to block, with an eye toward "educating" the paladin's player out of his Lizardbaby obsession.)

I think the Impro concepts are "firm" enough that an observer could discern 1 from 2. But I recognize that the fact of 2 still doesn't tell us whether the game is narrativist or simulationist. If we knew the *kinds* of adds and the shape of the virtuous circle we might be further along. But 2 is a reward cycle, or reinforcement, right?

Best,


Jim
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: January 18, 2006, 07:54:56 AM »

Hi Jim,

Right. Some of the Impro concepts fit very well, especially as techniques rather than goals.

Best,
Ron
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Anna B
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« Reply #7 on: January 18, 2006, 05:21:51 PM »

So GNS isn't about how one plays so much as what type of play is rewarded by the system (using the word system to include both the rules and the socail contract)?

I'll try and define the reward system of the AE game some more.{*} The game has two modes of play town and adventure. The adventure mode involves us doing lots of combat, tactics and puzzle solving. I haven't really said much about this mode because I'm not confused by it. We have explored several dungeons, and a few weeks ago we fought troll over a series of cliffs. When we get into a fight B (The former DM) writes the intuitive order on the white board behind where he sits. Usually rather than writing character names he writes something silly like "magic girl", bad guys get called things like "icky" and "tugs" or "staff" Then people mostly just talk when it's their turn to act.  If somebody does something impressive people will make admiring noise. At critical hit or smart tactical move will usually get this treatment. We also communicate about who needs to be healed and other party resources. We get exp based on how tough the monsters are and we also get loot. I think most of this play is gamest and I enjoy it because it is challenging. I also enjoy working as team with the other players.

The town mode is were most of the bickering and such takes place. As part of the town mode my character saved money and bought herself a house and a kitten. The house is now the setting for most town based roleplay. Town mode also includes shopping but we don't play out every interaction with shopkeepers, though we sometimes play the character talking about what to buy or shopping together. I'm having a hard time coming up with a more informative term than "fun" to talk about what we get out of this.

As part of town mode we sometimes deal with a dragon who runs a large part of the city. Our characters sometimes do jobs for the dragon. We are all scared of the dragon. The GM has expressed his pleasure because of this. He is happy that he conveyed the fearsomeness of the dragon to us. I and the other players, I think, enjoy being scared, but I'm having a hard time articulating why.

Could you tell me more about Impro? Number 2 is closer to what happened, though I think that the player and the GM where equally likely to bring up the lizardbabies. Outside of game the GM expressed his pleasure at having created moral dilemma for the players and he was quite involved with them.{**}



{*}The PTA game is harder because I've only played it once.

{**} Just to clear things up. The Paladin was not the player babysitting the lizardbabies. He was just in voled because he determined that the lizardbabies were not evil. C the player it the PTA game was actuality the one taking care of the lizardbabies.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2006, 07:01:15 PM »

Hi Anna,

Quote
So GNS isn't about how one plays so much as what type of play is rewarded by the system

Actually, you might be tying yourself up in words. As I see it, "how one plays" and "type of play rewarded by system" are exactly the same thing. The only way anyone can play is to use a system (just as you correctly describe it), with a reward involved in some way. What they do, in creative/social terms? That's GNS.

But maybe you're not tied up and I'm being picky. Correct me if I'm wrong, but does this phrasing represent your point? It's not the details of what I do minute to minute, but how I (and we) interact about what we really get out of role-playing.

If so, then yes - you got it. However, those details can be very important as indicators and as necessary, even crucial reinforcers of the enjoyment.

Based on your description, I'll tentatively agree with you that the D&D group seems to be playing in a fun, lively Gamist way. One of the most important features of my essays, which people often miss, is that bits and moments of activity can be very diverse - just because you guys enjoyed a little moral dilemma once in a while, within the larger scope of your Gamist enjoyment, doesn't mean you were playing Narrativist.

"Impro" refers to improvisational theater. There are lots of people here who can tell you all about this, with various official rules and teaching methods. Jim's good at applying them to role-playing. Since I haven't been involved seriously in theater for about two decades now, I'll avoid embarassing myself with any imprecise talk about it.

Best,
Ron
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« Reply #9 on: January 19, 2006, 07:05:16 AM »

I'm just a backup singer in Neel Krishnaswami and the Pips when it comes to the Impro stuff. But here's some links applying Keith Johnstone's Impro principles and dicta to the play of RPGs:

Pete Darby's quick review of Impro for Storytellers

Darby's Daedalus article on applying Impro techniques to RPG play

Neel uses Impro ideas to make sense of a concept I've tentatively called "aerobic narrativism"

Neel's Impro-based Court of the Empress RPG (short)

The 20x20 Room Google search results for "Impro," in case you really want to delve

Hope this is of use!

Best,


Jim
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Anna B
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« Reply #10 on: January 19, 2006, 02:47:10 PM »

Ron, that rephrasing works for me. Thank you for explaining things to me.

Jim, thanks for all the links, it take me a bit to read though all of them, but they look tasty.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #11 on: January 20, 2006, 01:32:22 PM »

This is such a helpful and lucid discussion I've bookmarked it.

To complete my own comprehension (and hopefully other people's), I wanted to push on this bit:

The relationship between mechanics-rewards, textual game rules, and actual social/creative rewards is complex....A lot of people seem to think that when I talk about "reward," I only mean the points and stuff like that. Nope - I mean the real-people stuff, the interactions.

Unpacking that, I think I see:

REWARD CYCLES

1. Purely social rewards: your action is rewarded by...
 1a) audience reaction: other people laughing, gasping, nodding silently, etc. at the time
 1b) oral tradition: other people recounting the "war story" of what you did afterwards (in contrast to ignoring or forgetting the other bits)
 1c) group dynamics: other people treating you better in the group (e.g. more deference, less bullying) in the long term
 1d) relationship ricochets: other people being more willing to game with/hang out with/have sex with you later

2. Mechanical rewards with social relevance: your action is rewarded by other people giving you (immediately or deferred) some kind of points...
 2a) gold stars:  ...that are recognized by the group as signs of approval (e.g. a DM giving out XP, other players giving out fanmail in Prime Time Adventures - note that in PTA, this is 1a formalized).
 2b) high score: ...that may be of minimal significance at the time and in themselves but whose accumulation either inspires esteem directly or translates into badges of esteem (e.g. "levelling up," as in "wow, you're gonna reach 12th level way before me!")
2c) power: ...that, independent of any esteem they may inspire, gives you more power to do something in the game that other players care about (e.g. "levelling up" again, but now in terms of "oh, you're 11th level, you can do that - wow...")

It's interesting to see how D&D potentially serves up all three flavors of (2) at once -- the more I analyze that system, the more I respect it.

But the fundamental point is that a mechanical "reward" that makes you more effective in the game in a way nobody cares about isn't actually a "reward" at all.

Ron, am I missing or misconstruing anything fundamental?
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2006, 01:59:18 PM »

From my armchair, Sydney, the (2)s must be reflections of the (1)s or else they're just bookkeeping.  When I'm designing, I usually frame writing the rules to support/emphasize/reflect real interactions at the table.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: January 20, 2006, 03:12:09 PM »

Hi Sydney,

Yup, you got it,  and Joshua's punched it too.

Just to go back to the Big Model entirely, now, check it out: I have System as part of Exploration, and all of Exploration is composed of pure imaginative communication among the real people. And I say all parts of System exist at that level - with reward (reinforcement, if you prefer) at its core.

If you want to talk about methods and ways and means, then we're talking about Techniques packed full of Ephemera, interacting with one another. That's when we talk about points, levels, and so forth, or even just congratulatory punches on the arm.

Anna, sorry about the sudden influx of jargon there. Sydney needed a little reminder that "see, it's in the model already," which I like to do every so often.

Best,
Ron
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #14 on: January 20, 2006, 04:27:13 PM »

In the Big Model already, check. I just needed to walk myself through the steps between "reward systems do these mechanical things" and Ron's "all reward systems that matter are about the real people" -- it's the curse of the sophomore, knowing just enough to get confused.

Anna, thanks for asking such good questions, and such good followup questions about the answers. I've been reading this Forge stuff for nearly two years and you helped make something critical "click" for me just today.
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