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Author Topic: One order of Narrativism, hold the Premise please  (Read 13579 times)
Walt Freitag
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« on: May 26, 2002, 12:45:33 PM »

Thursday evening I read through the RPGNet GNS thread again. Then I followed the link back to the March thread and read that. Then I spent about twelve straight hours rereading old threads here on The Forge. I did all this because I realized I still couldn’t answer, to my own satisfaction, a simple question about narrativism, and this bothered the hell out of me.

For those who are sick of this type of discussion and may want to bail out now, I’ll say up front that my design here is to challenge the current definition of Narrativism in GNS. I believe it conflicts with the functionality of the GNS model as a whole in such a way that either:

(1) play in which N decisions are prioritized does not necessarily meet the definition of narrativism,

or

(2) important decisions occur in play that prioritize something other than G, N, nor S. (I mean important to what transpires within the game, not external decisions like what kind of pizza to order).

I’m not going to get all the way there in this one post, though. Instead, I want to focus on the question that was bothering me in the wee hours of Friday morning.

Suppose there’s a gamemaster running an old school game in which the GM holds authorial power. He normally makes simulationist decisions as long as those decisions are also compatible with maintaining a minimal level of aesthetics in the emerging story through authorial artifice. By authorial artifice I mean things like plot structure, building suspense, and bringing about a satisfying climax. Whenever following in-game-world causality would conflict with the stories' aesthetics, he always decides in favor of exercising authorial artifice rather than following the in-game-world causality. For example, he would decide that the thug who gets off a lucky close-range shot will target the PC wearing a bullet-proof vest rather than one one whose targeting would best challenge the players’ ability to react or the one it would make the most in-game-world sense to the thug to target. He would do this in order to avoid deprotagonizing a player-character, though he’d probably describe it in his own words as "not messing up the game by having a player-character get shot by a lousy mook at a completely inappropriate time." For another example, he’ll withhold information in order to maintain suspense even if that information was "fairly earned" by the players through effective use of in-game resources, or even if the in-game-world course of events should causally lead to their obtaining the information.

Just to be clear, I’m focusing on a single such decision but that decision takes place within the context of a persistent pattern of similar decisions made on the same basis. Also, let’s assume my hypothetical GM is not railroading the players in the conventional sense. (Since some appear to believe that the fact that authorial power rests entirely with the GM constitutes railroading no matter what the GM actually does in play, I can’t decisively say that he’s not railroading them at all, but there is no pre-planned story and he is not systematically subverting their ability to make and execute in-character decisions.)

Finally, the game has no literary Premise. Mention Lajos Egri and our GM will rack his brain trying to remember which James Bond movie villain you’re talking about. Everything he knows about storytelling, he learned from Vince McMahon.

Think you’ve heard all this before, over and over, on any number of old threads? Me too. But in all those threads I’ve looked at, the question and discussion that follows focuses on characterizing the resulting play as a whole. There has been much discussion of whether or not some example or another is (a) narrativism (b) vanilla (c) abashed (d) railroading (e) illusionism (f) dramatism (g) drifted (h) functional (i) simulationism (j) exploration of situation (k) exploration of setting (l) simulation of story (m) exploration of story (n) exploration of situation (o) intuitive continuity (p) coherent… and so on. That is not the question I want to address, at least not yet. (I know a few of those concepts have been discredited, but all have been discussed.)

GNS is based fundamentally on decisions made in individual instances of play. So all I want to do is characterize one decision. Let’s say, the decision that the thug shoots the guy who’s wearing the bullet-proof vest instead of the guy who’s the most immediate in-game threat to the attacker or the guy whose getting shot would cause the most challenge for the players.

Which priority is expressed by that decision: G, N, or S? Something else, and if so, what? Impossible to determine, and if so, why?

- Walt

[edited to clarify that the question with the (a) (b) (c) choices is not being asked, the question in the final paragraph is]
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2002, 01:29:02 PM »

O) Intuitive continuity

Seems to sum it up nicely. No preset goal, or attempt to get at a particular Premise, but the GM is making story happen anyhow.

Mike
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2002, 02:07:17 PM »

Probably so, Mike, but that's not the question I was asking. Summing things up is exactly what I don't want to do. I want to classify the prioty indicated by one single decision (or, if that just can't be done, the priority indicated by the smallest set of similar decisions it is possible to classify). The existence of such priorities, and their classifiability into exactly one of G, N, or S is one of the fundamental principles of GNS theory. So let's do it.

- Walt
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2002, 03:08:24 PM »

Hi Walter,

With respect, you have permitted some fallacious interpretations to interfere with what I'm saying in my essay, and so a lot of the contrasts or logic-steps you present are valid - but they are solutions to problems that don't exist. The main problem you perceive, I think, is that I would somehow insist that the GM you describe is not playing in a Narrativist way. However ... shock! ... he is.

Suppose there’s a gamemaster running an old school game in which the GM holds authorial power. He normally makes simulationist decisions as long as those decisions are also compatible with maintaining a minimal level of aesthetics in the emerging story through authorial artifice. By authorial artifice I mean things like plot structure, building suspense, and bringing about a satisfying climax. Whenever following in-game-world causality would conflict with the stories' aesthetics, he always decides in favor of exercising authorial artifice rather than following the in-game-world causality.

Right. Illusionism. So far so good.

Finally, the game has no literary Premise. Mention Lajos Egri and our GM will rack his brain trying to remember which James Bond movie villain you’re talking about. Everything he knows about storytelling, he learned from Vince McMahon.
 
Watch out here, I think. The GM could well be working with a perfectly ginchy Egri-style Premise without knowing jack about the theory. When you say the game has no literary Premise, that's different from saying the GM isn't thinking about or using Egri. These mental processes are buried very deep in the human mind (some say at the very root of "cognition," which is pre-human) and happen without "thinking about them" in the general/casual use of that phrase.

Look at that paragraph of yours I quoted above - it's impossible for the GM to be doing any such thing as your "authorial artifice" unless he does have an Egri-style Premise in mind. It may not be a very deep one - for instance, when Victor von Doom tries to dominate the world yet again, we're just seeing a Rivalry-oriented Premise recapped - but it's there.

GNS is based fundamentally on decisions made in individual instances of play. So all I want to do is characterize one decision. Let’s say, the decision that the thug shoots the guy who’s wearing the bullet-proof vest instead of the guy who’s the most immediate in-game threat to the attacker or the guy whose getting shot would cause the most challenge for the players.

Which priority is expressed by that decision: G, N, or S? Something else, and if so, what? Impossible to determine, and if so, why?


I'll stick with the Illusionist GM you described above, who, as I say, is indeed addressing Narrativist Premise during play. He wants his game to end up "like a story," and presumably his players do too (in a "I'm contributing" way that doesn't have much to do with authorship). So he uses these types of decisions to do it.

That's Narrativist. What's hard about that?

However, it is only Narrativist on his part, not the players. This is important - GNS is about actual play, not "reasons to play" beforehand or "results of play" afterwards. We are talking about role-playing decisions and interactions at the very moment - and these players are not playing Narrativist, given your description. We are looking about a mixed-priority group in which everyone hopes a story emerges but no one wants the process of creating a story to be in anyone's hands except the GM's. He is playing Narrativist but they are not.

So I'm totally cool with identifying the GM as making Narrativist decisions. I also claim he's got an uphill row to hoe, because player-decisions will pingpong about and he has to play manager-man to assemble them, his back-story, and the illusion of plausibility into something that turns out to be a story.

I don't see the theory-based problem, Walt. It all lies on the paradox that you propose, that he's not a Premise-y GM but he does have that "authorial artifice" (exactly as you describe) going on. However, that won't fly. Either the GM has an Egri-style Premise (of even the most basic sort, like Bond movie) in mind, and he's making a Narrativist decision to get there, or he doesn't - and in that case, that whole "authorial artifice" that you describe ceases to exist.

My only claim is that he and his group might run into serious problems of the sort I ran into, and tons of others have as well, as in order to achieve his priorities, he tends to railroad more and more, and the players who share the Narrativist priorities turn out to be the ones who are least satisfied over time.

Best,
Ron
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #4 on: May 26, 2002, 06:37:19 PM »

Hi Ron,

The main problem you perceive, I think, is that I would somehow insist that the GM you describe is not playing in a Narrativist way.

It was actually a three-way conundrum. I saw three possible interpretations:

- The GM I described is not prioritizing narrativist decisions. But then, what the heck is he prioritizing? Result: GNS is incomplete. (As in all the old "you need dramatism" arguments; my possibility 1.)

- The GM is prioritizing narrativist decisions, but because there is no literary Premise, he cannot be playing in a narrativist fashion. Result: the link in GNS between decision-making priority and mode is broken somehow. (My possibility 2. I thought this was the most likely possiblity, because there have been hints of it in past discussion. To wit:

-- The assertion, often made and not to my knowledge challenged by you, that most RPG play includes instances of the two modes not prioritized as well as the one that is. How could a gamist game, for example, include any admixture of narrativist play without a literary Premise?

-- Probably in reaction to that problem, statements (by others, I think, not you, and it would take me a long time to find them again) implying that the trace of "N" decision-making that mixes into gamist and simulationist play often uses, or must use, a different definition of story than N decisions in narrativism does.

- The GM is prioritizing narrativist decisions, and is playing in a narrativis way, but the assumption of no literary Premise cannot be true. (Your answer.) Result: see below...

It appeared to me that each of these possibilities had comparably severe consequences for my understanding of narrativism. #1 would have led me into the dramatist camp to see if I could scrounge up anything useful to fill the apparent gap. #2 would have, most likely, led me to seek out an alternate definition of narrativism. #3, well now, all that does is radically change my understanding of Premise in the context of narrativism.

The GM could well be working with a perfectly ginchy Egri-style Premise without knowing jack about the theory. When you say the game has no literary Premise, that's different from saying the GM isn't thinking about or using Egri.

Agreed. The assertion that the hypothetical GM was unaware of Egri's identity or theory was irrelevant. My point would have been stronger without it.

These mental processes are buried very deep in the human mind (some say at the very root of "cognition," which is pre-human) and happen without "thinking about them" in the general/casual use of that phrase.

Look at that paragraph of yours I quoted above - it's impossible for the GM to be doing any such thing as your "authorial artifice" unless he does have an Egri-style Premise in mind. It may not be a very deep one - for instance, when Victor von Doom tries to dominate the world yet again, we're just seeing a Rivalry-oriented Premise recapped - but it's there.


What you are saying appears to be that prioritization of any form of metagame narrative aesthetic concerns over gamist and simulationist goals automatically gives rise to, or proves the prior existence of, literary Premise. Sure, certain effective forms of narrativism might require a focus on Premise, but definitionally, you don't have to focus on Premise for it to be narrativist, you only need to prioritize some form of metagame storytelling principles, and literary Premise will be there anyway, whether you're aware of it or not. To misquote Hamlet: "Assume a Premise, if you have it not." (And either meaning of "assume" will do.)

Is this new understanding not the "widening" of the narrativism category that so many have been agitating for? Don't most descriptions of dramatism now fall neatly into a sub-category (a rarely used sub-category, as you've pointed out) of narrativism? Can we tell at least some of the people on RPGNet who object to GNS because they believe they focus on narrative concerns but they think GNS lumps them in with simulationist play styles with very different priorities, because they don't focus on Premise, that they were really narrativists all along? (Some of them, at least, describe styles that are close to that of my hypothetical GM.)

However, it is only Narrativist on his part, not the players. This is important - GNS is about actual play, not "reasons to play" beforehand or "results of play" afterwards. We are talking about role-playing decisions and interactions at the very moment - and these players are not playing Narrativist, given your description. We are looking about a mixed-priority group in which everyone hopes a story emerges but no one wants the process of creating a story to be in anyone's hands except the GM's. He is playing Narrativist but they are not.

Understood. I think the realm of asymmetrical (in the GNS sense) play is fertile and largely unexplored. I'm looking at GNS as a potential tool for characterizing the asymmetry. There are six asymmetrical GM-player combinations before even considering drift, transition, and variant styles within modes. GNS meets transactions?

Part of the reason for my interest in asymmetrical play is that many of the forms of interactive storytelling I'm interested in exhibit even larger asymmetries due to the nature of their performance media. The difference in goals between a simulationist and a narrativist is not great compared to the difference between a human and a computer, or the difference between participants paid to participate and participants who pay to participate.

My only claim is that he and his group might run into serious problems of the sort I ran into, and tons of others have as well...

Yep. Fertile, largely unexplored, and teeming with tigers and bears. Did I forget to mention that last part?

...as in order to achieve his priorities, he tends to railroad more and more, and the players who share the Narrativist priorities turn out to be the ones who are least satisfied over time.

Makes sense. In a transactional model asymmetry fuels transactions, and symmetry can stall them. If everyone in the cafe wants to recite poetry and no one wants to listen to poetry, no one's going to be very happy, unless they break the symmetry by dividing things up to create local asymmetries that get things moving again. That's what taking turns is all about. Except, crap, I'm getting off-topic in my own damn thread. Never mind.

Best regards,

- Walt

PS For the record, my hypothetical GM is not me, though he might have been me at some past time.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #5 on: May 26, 2002, 07:59:43 PM »

Quote from: wfreitag
Quote from: Ron Edwards
It's impossible for the GM to be doing any such thing as your "authorial artifice" unless he does have an Egri-style Premise in mind. It may not be a very deep one - for instance, when Victor von Doom tries to dominate the world yet again, we're just seeing a Rivalry-oriented Premise recapped - but it's there.

What you are saying appears to be that prioritization of any form of metagame narrative aesthetic concerns over gamist and simulationist goals automatically gives rise to, or proves the prior existence of, literary Premise. Sure, certain effective forms of narrativism might require a focus on Premise, but definitionally, you don't have to focus on Premise for it to be narrativist, you only need to prioritize some form of metagame storytelling principles, and literary Premise will be there anyway, whether you're aware of it or not. To misquote Hamlet: "Assume a Premise, if you have it not." (And either meaning of "assume" will do.)

Is this new understanding not the "widening" of the narrativism category that so many have been agitating for? Don't most descriptions of dramatism now fall neatly into a sub-category (a rarely used sub-category, as you've pointed out) of narrativism? Can we tell at least some of the people on RPGNet who object to GNS because they believe they focus on narrative concerns but they think GNS lumps them in with simulationist play styles with very different priorities, because they don't focus on Premise, that they were really narrativists all along? (Some of them, at least, describe styles that are close to that of my hypothetical GM.)

When I last saw it (here and here) Ron, you defined Dramatism as being within Simulationism as Exploration of Situation.  I disagreed but had some trouble figuring out why.  In an attempt to I wrote One Side is Turned Inside Out.  Not that it really seemed to help.

This pretty much lays it all bare.  In Dramatism, the emphasis is placed on story (with the now obvious attendant unacknowledged Premise).  Despite the power inequity (which works under the recently minted 'Vanilla Narrativism'), despite the player fixation on goals other than Narrativism (as cited above), it is the expectation of story that has always made this a thorny issue and now it conjoins Dramatism to Narrativism.

Now that we have an angle on how any aesthetic 'story' concern results in however unconscious a Premise, it would seem that Narrativism and Dramatism are now at least Siamese Twins (or something).  Is this the first official ackowledgement of this new stance?  I can see a lot of discussing coming out of this one.

Fang Langford
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: May 26, 2002, 08:01:17 PM »

Hi Walt,

Well, we've moved closer in terms of talking about what I think Ye Hypothetical GM is doing. I've got three points to riff on from your post.

ONE
I'm afraid you are persisting in paraphrasing my point into strange places:

"What you are saying appears to be that prioritization of any form of metagame narrative aesthetic concerns over gamist and simulationist goals automatically gives rise to, or proves the prior existence of, literary Premise."

Not guilty. As I tried to emphasize with some inserted phrases, I was working off your very specific description of the GM. That description included many strong and focused elements, and was summed up with the term "authorial artifice." Those elements, in combination, required the presence of a literary Premise. I did not use the process of elimination ("no G, no S, must be N") to arrive at that conclusion.

Now, looking at your paragraph that I've quoted, I agree with it in one sense - there are three very general metagame concerns regarding the actual role-playing: Narrativist, Simulationist, Gamist. That's nothing but what my GNS chapter says in the first place. (To clarify, any of these is embedded in a larger social matrix of metagame goals, but that's grading up/out in concept-scale, and I won't deal with it further here.)

TWO
You wrote,

"Is this new understanding not the "widening" of the narrativism category that so many have been agitating for? "

I have stated for many moons, now, that most people's reading of Narrativism is too narrow. When challenged on this, I've offered multiple examples of relatively-incompatible Narrativist play. Narrativism as I've described it doesn't need to be widened - people's awareness of what that description means needs to be.

I have also stated, many times, that Dramatism suffers from a lack of actual example, as a unique/undescribed phenomenon in my scheme. When, sometimes tearfully, I am presented with a putative example, I get (1) Simulationism with strong Situation or Character emphasis or (2) Narrativism with a system that focuses on Drama and a fair dose of railroading. I've never said that no example of something that someone calls Dramatism was not, or could never be, Narrativism.

I do emphatically state that "Dramatism" is a term that has no operational definition and that any single example I'm provided with (which, I add, I can count using the fingers on one hand) has been swiftly categorized without inconsistencies using my terms/framework.

THREE
Please explain what you mean by asymmetry. Is it related to what I call Balance of Power (and what Fang would prefer we use some gentler term for)?

Best,
Ron
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #7 on: May 27, 2002, 06:47:18 AM »

Hey Ron,

Paraphrasing your point into strange places... people are always doing that to you, aren't they?

Okay, I jumped the gun in extrapolating implications from a single example. But you didn't think I'd stop at one example, did you? ;-)

But before breaking down/generalizing the example in question, I have to address the process of elimination. In some ways it's the crux of the whole issue.

When a categorization is complete (the union of the categories includes every possibility), then it is logically valid to apply the process of elimination to categorize an item, even if you don't prefer to apply that method yourself. My interpretation of GNS, confirmed by what you just said in point one, is that the GNS categorization of metagame concerns regarding the actual role-playing is complete. Some, even many, individual instances might not be categorizable due to insufficient visible evidence, but every categorizable example must be one of the three.

Therefore, a decision-making priority can be established as narrativist by demonstrating that it is not simulationist and not gamist. "No G, no S, must be N" should be valid, as long as it's clear that "no X" means "overwhelming evidence contraindicating X," not merely "lack of evidence of X."

Conversely, if the process of elimination is not valid, then the categorization cannot be complete.

Says me, anyway. What says you?

Respectfully,

Walt
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Seth L. Blumberg
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« Reply #8 on: May 27, 2002, 07:11:31 AM »

Diving in on the shallow end of this discussion....

Quote from: Walt
the decision that the thug shoots the guy who's wearing the bullet-proof vest instead of the guy who's the most immediate in-game threat to the attacker or the guy whose getting shot would cause the most challenge for the players.

This decision, considered as a discrete instance of play (and that's what GNS is about), is clearly and unambiguously Narrativist.  The GM is prioritizing dramatic structure as a concern, ergo, Narrativism.

I utterly fail to see what the fuss is about.  Perhaps you could enlighten me?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: May 27, 2002, 07:23:13 AM »

Hi there,

I have a lot to say in this post, but I also think that the danger of getting into irrelevant little side-eddies is very high. I ask that everyone help keep the focus throughout this thread.

Walt,
The issue is not whether one can use process of elimination. The issue is whether I had to (as you stated). I say that I did not; that you provided enough internal evidence to peg the GM as making a Narrativist decision.

Even that issue is not the main one. The main issue is whether your rather grand concern about the validity of Narrativism as a whole has been addressed. I think it has, and I want to see either confirmation or refutation on that.

I don't really like the "maneuvering" mode of argument, in which a person says, A is reasonable, right? Yesss ... Then B is reasonable too, right? Um, OK .... Then ha! C!

Tell me C up front. What are you saying?

Fang,
With respect, you have fallen into the same trap that others have fallen into. "Ron says Dramatism is Simulationism." Well, I frickin' don't say that. I reviewed all sorts of threads about this yesterday, and again and again, I presented the Simulationist/Situation option as an example of what some play tagged as Dramatism is doing. Other play tagged as Dramatism is quite likely Narrativism - this is the less-difficult connection, and as such, didn't need to be emphasized (so I thought).

I must say it again: there is no such "thing" as Dramatism. When I ask for a description, I (a) get a diversity of incompatibles, each of which is (b) easily categorized in GNS terms.

If this must be brought up again, then we should do it in a new thread. I'll say in advance that the only person I've seen present a meaningful argument about Dramatism is Gareth Martin, and he's doing so by assigning a whole new structure to the model. Everyone else is making category-errors at fundamental levels in order even to ask the questions they're asking.

Best,
Ron
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #10 on: May 27, 2002, 08:43:32 AM »

Quote
The GM is prioritizing dramatic structure as a concern, ergo, Narrativism.

I utterly fail to see what the fuss is about. Perhaps you could enlighten me?


Hi Seth,

The issue was not that I didn't think the example represented narrativism. In fact, I thought it did all along. My point was that it appeared to me to represent narrativism without literary Premise, which would contradict a central principle of GNS.

The gist of the subsequent discussion is that I'm wrong about narrativism without Premise, but this has implications for my understanding of Premise. It contradicts a prevailing belief (which I had picked up on myself) that certain forms of play that prioritize narrative aesthetics are not narrativism because of their lack of conscious focus on a recognized Premise.

Ron,

Quote
I don't really like the "maneuvering" mode of argument, in which a person says, A is reasonable, right? Yesss ... Then B is reasonable too, right? Um, OK .... Then ha! C!

Tell me C up front. What are you saying?


Understood, and my apologies. I usually don't do that, and as a result it often turns out that that a chain of twenty inferences is considered invalid at step three, and the rest of the argument is a waste of time (not just mine, but later readers' too). I thought I'd try the alternative.

What I'm saying is that my original example is very generalizable. The same chain of reasoning can be applied to any persistent pattern of in-play decisions that exhibit demonstrably non-gamist and non-simulationist priorities. That the original example concerned a GM rather than a non-GM is irrelevant. That the original example was not conventional railroading is irrelevant. That the GM was using illusionism or intuitive continuity is irrelevant. That the GM was making decisions based on reasonably sophisticated notions of story quality is irrelevant.

The bottom line is that any play that prioritizes non-simulationist non-gamist concerns must possess a Premise. A GM who uses metagame means to frustrate the players for the first three quarters of a session, then feed them ass-kicking success for a big finish, is acting on a Premise. A player who always does whatever will get the biggest laugh from the other players is acting on a Premise.

The reasoning is:

1. Prioritization of demonstrably non-gamist and non-simulationst goals implies prioritization of narrativist goals, by process of elimination.

2. Priortization of narrativist goals implies narrativism, by the basic functional tenet of GNS.

3. Narrativism implies there's a Premise, by definition of Narrativism.

This is my rationale for the paragraph I asserted earlier:

Quote
What you are saying appears to be that prioritization of any form of metagame narrative aesthetic concerns over gamist and simulationist goals automatically gives rise to, or proves the prior existence of, literary Premise. Sure, certain effective forms of narrativism might require a focus on Premise, but definitionally, you don't have to focus on Premise for it to be narrativist, you only need to prioritize some form of metagame storytelling principles, and literary Premise will be there anyway, whether you're aware of it or not.


The discussion since then has convinced me of only one amendment to that assertion: "some form of metagame storytelling principles" should be narrowed down to "some form of metagame storytelling principles contrary to those of simulationism or gamism." That needs to be stated because if the "storytelling principle" is that good story results from e.g. in-game-world causality alone, or from e.g. unfettered competition, then of course that's expressing simulationism or gamism respectively, not narrativism.

If we've reached agreement on the paragraph thus amended, then we're done, and I can follow up on that asymmetry thing. Otherwise I don't yet understand the flaw in this reasoning.

And I'm aware that all this may not be anything that GNS hasn't said all along. But it's a big change to my understanding of it, and I think others will say the same.

Best regards,

- Walt
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contracycle
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« Reply #11 on: May 28, 2002, 05:03:07 AM »

Quote
The bottom line is that any play that prioritizes non-simulationist non-gamist concerns must possess a Premise.


I disagree with this, and perhaps this may illustrate some concerns about dramatism.  I do NOT think there is as yet reason to think that Premise necessarily exists in games, nor that decisions other than G or S imply the perhaps unconscious and unrecognised presence of a premise.

I think premise is an artifact of the medium of singular teller of stories to audience.  An unconscious premise may be argued to occur because such a lengthy act of communication implies something to say.  An explicit premise can be argued as a utilitarian tool which aids the coherency of the delivery.

I think that it is possible to play a game or make decisions which are "story oriented" without the presence of an implicit premise.  I do not htink that a premise is required for all forms of story-oriented play. Its most visible IMO and most useful function lies in narrativism and the co-creation of story - in this sense the premise is a bit like a blueprint so that everyone knows roughly what this thing is they are making and can make appropriate decisions.  I can also see it in the auteur-GM model in the GM's planning and sense of direction, in this case to maintain internal consistency.  In both these cases, decisions are made in the light of a premise.  But I think that it is also possible to make decisions based on concerns other than the premise for the realisation of the environment - what Ron describes as sim of genre.  This description does not really work for me - partly highlighted by the discussion of the recent d20 star wars game.  Star Wars is horrible for Sim - it does not work.  To say that we are "simming genre" is merely to say: we are making decisions in accordance with the type of story we anticipate from this setup.  To me, these are story rather than sim oriented - I don't like the location of this form of (IMO dramatist) play in Sim becuase I do not think that premise is necessary for all forms of story.  The distinction appears to me to rest on that basis - that "premiseless genre decisions" are sim BECUASE of the absence of premise.  Seeing as I consider premise a tool for controlling the coherence of the exposition of story, I argue that exactly the same effect can be achieved by adhering to genre convention rather than premise, and hence premise is indicative of those story oriented decisions classed as narrativist only.
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Walt Freitag
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Posts: 1039


« Reply #12 on: May 28, 2002, 06:16:12 AM »

Gareth, I largely agree. The sentence you quoted is not a statement of my personal beliefs about storytelling and Premise. It's what appears to me to be a logical conclusion implied by the GNS model.

Though people have assumed the contrary, and I can understand why, my concern is not dramatism. I have never entered the dramatism debate. (However, I'm glad to see the accord that Ron and Fang have reached which agrees with my opinion about it.) My agenda is nothing other than to identify areas where GNS might be modified to produce a new model with greater internal consistency. If the same results can be accomplished by improving my understanding of the model as it is, I'm happy with that.

I think there is a fine line between genre expectations that can be reduced to in-game-world causal or behavioral rules (e.g. villains will always reveal their plans before attempting to kill a captured hero; detectives will always notice every clue; explosions cannot harm action heroes because the hero can leap and allow the fireball to push him to safety), and genre expectations of results that only the outside-the-game-world machinations of an author can reliably produce (e.g. villains will always fail; detectives will always solve the case but only at the last possible minute). If we were dealing with only the former type of genre expectations, then simulationism suffices. The latter type of genre expectations, as you point out, are really story outcome expectations. (Meaning, not expectations of how the story ends, but expectations of the characteristics of the story that are generated as the outcome of play.) These expectations cannot be met by decisions prioritizing in-game-world causality, and therefore must be something else besides simulationism.

(The line between sim and non-sim genre expectations can be even finer than that. "The hero always survives" could be either type of genre expectation. It could be simulational -- the system for injury simply does not allow for the character to die no matter what happens to him (as in the aptly named Die Hard) -- or it could be metagame -- the character could die but the circumstances for making that happen will just never come about (Batman).)

The question is what the something else that's not simulationism is. There are three possible answers.

1. It's not narrativism because the genre expectations substitute for Premise, and narrativism requires Premise, therefore it must be something else such as dramatism. (This seems to be what you're suggesting.)

2. It is narrativism, and shows that narrativism extends into areas where Premise is absent. (This was my hypothesis coming into this thread, and it's still my preference. I'd scrap Premise as being definitional for narrativism, and replace it with protagonism. An N decision is a decision that prioritizes protagonizing a character. Different "flavors" of narrativism would follow from different ways characters can be protagonized. Exploring an Egri-style Premise being the most literary form of protagonism, hence the most literary form of narrativism.)

3. It is narrativism, and you're wrong about the genre-expectation decisions being Premiseless. There's an unrecognized Premise in there somewhere. The kind of decisions you describe cannot be made based on genre expectations of outcome alone; a Premise must be there to guide you. (This is Ron's answer in this thread so far.)

- Walt
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Ron Edwards
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WWW
« Reply #13 on: May 28, 2002, 07:28:44 AM »

Hi Walt,

I request that you read the whole of the following thread before responding, because there's a midpoint that would be a terrible jumping-off point for debate. (Not that you've ever demonstrated this behavior, but if ever it would be disastrous, now's the time.)

In my view, your #2 and #3 are far closer than you may think.

"Character" as protagonist, in the literary sense, implies Premise. The presence of the former means that the latter is now in action. I am using a fairly restrictive form of protagonism here, in that the character is passionate about something, engaged in something, and about to do something. (See my recent posts about The Club Dumas in the Sorcerer forum.)

Now, not all player-characters in role-playing conform to this, of course. Some are "protagonists" in a much more general sense, meaning that the player is satisfied with the character's role in play (e.g. "the bad-ass" in a certain kind of Gamist group). And of all these protagonist-types across the GNS spectrum, some or many are deprotagonized routinely through certain types of play/rules.

But if you start with a "character who makes a good story," then you have Premise too. It's no use talking about which comes first; the one necessitates the other.

Now, if that's the case, why don't I talk about a character-first, protagonism-based definition of Narrativism? Because I think that setting-based and situation-based Narrativism occur as well, in role-playing. I think that it is perfectly valid to start with a setting which invokes a Premise, and to have characters grow into protagonists through play (Hero Wars, Castle Falkenstein). I think it is perfectly valid to start with situations in which a character "discovers" his or her passions and is revealed as a protagonist in play (Prince Valiant).

Granted: Sorcerer conforms very well to your suggestion of protagonist-first, hence Premise. However, I think that to define Narrativism accordingly would be much like what I'm accused of by many, mistaking my own preferences for a "fundamental type" of play.

Best,
Ron
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Le Joueur
Member

Posts: 1367


WWW
« Reply #14 on: May 28, 2002, 07:38:45 AM »

Quote from: wfreitag
The question is what the something else that's not simulationism is. There are three possible answers.[list=1][*]It's not narrativism because the genre expectations substitute for Premise, and narrativism requires Premise, therefore it must be something else such as dramatism. (This seems to be what you're suggesting.)

[*]It is narrativism, and shows that narrativism extends into areas where Premise is absent. (This was my hypothesis coming into this thread, and it's still my preference. I'd scrap Premise as being definitional for narrativism, and replace it with protagonism. An N decision is a decision that prioritizes protagonizing a character. Different "flavors" of narrativism would follow from different ways characters can be protagonized. Exploring an Egri-style Premise being the most literary form of protagonism, hence the most literary form of narrativism.)

[*]It is narrativism, and you're wrong about the genre expectation decisions being Premiseless. There's an unrecognized Premise in there somewhere. The kind of decisions you describe cannot be made based on genre expectations of outcome alone; a Premise must be there to guide you. (This is Ron's answer in this thread so far.)[/list:o]

I'm not sure we can really pick any of these just yet.  I think we've definitely hit a completely new grey area, the whole possibility of unacknowledge Premises.[list=1][*]This depends on whether, as the sum of your examples suggest, a 'full set' of Genre Expectations implies a Premise as well (so much so that many adherents to a genre don't even realize their addressing a Premise).

[*]Doesn't the only way this works is granted that A) Narrativism doesn't lose its identity totally in the absense of Premise definition and B) there isn't a lot of unacknowledged Premises rampant out there?

[*]I think this can only be decided based on whether there can be story-intent genre expectations without unacknowledged Premise.[/list:o]Ultimately, it all seems to come down to how and when unackowledged Premises occur under the GNS and only Ron can really answer that.  (And perhaps whether their presense alone and the unconscious adherence to them is enough to propel play into Narrativism; again, only the author can say.)

Fang Langford
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