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Author Topic: the importance of Sim-like gameplay to the Narrativist  (Read 14176 times)
Paul Czege
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« on: December 11, 2002, 06:20:18 PM »

So, after roughly eighteen months of fairly intensive Narrativist play, I find myself recently thinking an awful lot about Sim. And quite surprisingly, I find myself increasingly convinced that the social contract of a Narrativist group needs to support Sim-like play.

What the hell?! Somebody hold him down. Where's Nurse Ratched?

Seriously though, I don't often start threads in RPG Theory, but I've been thinking about this long enough that I'm getting curious whether the whole thing is a figment of my fevered imagination, and figured I'd better post about it.

What I'm realizing is that a Narrativist-inclined player actually has two authorial interests: 1) character with a payload of conflict/situation, and 2) setting with a payload of conflict/situation. And yes, I'm definitely talking Narrativism. Both of these authorial interests are in service of character protagonism.

Consider that the unspoken request of a player acting on behalf of type1 interests is, GM, please take this character and conflict/situation and use it as the substrate for your handling of adversity and setting on behalf of character protagonism, and the request of a GM acting on behalf of type2 interests is, player, please apprehend this setting and conflict/situation and use it as the substrate for your architecting of character and work demonstrating character protagonism.

This line of thinking has precipitated a disordered mess of notions for me:

1. I'm coming to believe that type1 and type2 authorial interests, were they to be combined, would map exactly to the authorial interests of a novelist. But within RPGs, they are distributed. And I might even go so far as to define Narrativist RPGs as an interesting apportionment of authoring powers, supported by social contract, in service to collaborative creation of story.

2. I'm thinking a proto-Narrativist with a history of frustrating and dysfunctional gaming experiences typically responds with great enthusiasm to game mechanics that make a big show of delivering Authorial/Directorial to the player. This, I think, is because the proto-Narrativist's frustrations are likely to be associated with the deprotagonization of player characters, and because it's difficult to mentally separate type2 interests from oppressive gamemastering. And so type1 authorial interests burn brightly and generate a lot of heat, and seem almost to comprise the entirety of Narrativism, almost entirely obfuscating legitimate Narrativist type2 interests.

3. There are Narrativist games that make some effort to address the type2 authorial interests of the players, in that they provide a formalized method for the whole player group to create setting and conflict. My Life with Master is one. You'll have to trust me on this, until I finish writing the game. I think Alyria might qualify as well. And use of player created Kickers and backstories show GM and designer awareness of type2 interests. But despite how fun these games and techniques are, it's unrealistic to expect them to truly scratch the type2 itch. When you've got that itch, you need to GM, and have sole ownership of setting and conflict/situation.

4. Of the two, it seems to me, Type2 is the fragile sibling. It relies much more heavily on social contract. With type1 play, each player's type1 interests are addressed by gameplay. With type2 play, only the GM is getting satisfaction of his type2 interests; the other players are trusting that their type2 interests will be accommodated by the group at another time, and perhaps even subordinating type1 interests they might be addressing via authorial powers, so as not to compromise the type2 interests of the GM. It takes a social fabric of great trust, that doesn't come easily to scarred gamers with a history of frustration, to enable type2.

5. The whole thing hinges on players developing a sophisticated understanding of protagonism and audience. In type1 play, the audience for character protagonism is the rest of the play group. In type2 play, the primary audience is the GM; if the rest of the play group finds itself interested, that's fine and good, but not of primary concern. (As an aside, if at any time a player finds that he is authoring the character without regard for audience interest, solely in service to personal relevance, he is no longer playing Narrativist.)

So...bring out Nurse Ratched?

Paul
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contracycle
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« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2002, 02:15:31 AM »

I'm not sure I understand why Type2 interests are attributed to the GM only; can the players not also have an interest in the Type2 activity?
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Andrew Martin
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« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2002, 02:35:32 AM »

Quote from: contracycle
I'm not sure I understand why Type2 interests are attributed to the GM only; can the players not also have an interest in the Type2 activity?


I agree with Contracycle.

If the game was GM-less, with GM power distributed amongst the players, wouldn't there be the opportunity for players to take up "Type2" interests as they see fit? No doubt I'm probably misunderstanding what you mean as I've been skimming the HYBRID rpg. :)
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2002, 06:57:03 AM »

Hey Gareth, Andrew,

I'm not sure I understand why Type2 interests are attributed to the GM only; can the players not also have an interest in the Type2 activity?

I'm not suggesting that players don't have type2 interests; on the contrary, I think all Narrativist-inclined players have type2 interests to some degree. What I'm suggesting is that type2 interests are not well satisfied outside the context of sole ownership of setting and conflict/situation you get with more traditional GMing.

Let me see if I can give an example...

When our group playtested The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, I was the GM. In one scene, I introduced a group of armed revolutionaries in such a way as to provoke a fairly tense Mexican standoff situation. The game delivers some Directorial power to the players. After the session, Scott told me how hard it was for him to keep from using his Directorial power to have a horde of cannibalistic humanoids burst into the hut, which would have been an event fairly far removed from the kinds of conflicts I personally would have wanted to see for the setting.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that from game standpoint. It isn't dysfunctional or anything, if Scott's maintaining an awareness of audience and operating in service to character protagonism. It's collaborative play. What I'm saying is that the type2 itch isn't well scratched by the kinds of games we see a lot of at The Forge, that apportion Authorial and Directorial power in this way. That may seem like I'm arguing for traditional Sim games that largely deliver Authorial and Directorial power to the GM. But I'm not. I used "Sim-like" in the thread title out of intent. I guess ultimately what I'm saying is that I'd like to see some games that, in addition to re-envisioning the traditional division of Authorial and Directorial power also re-envision notions of audience and responsibility, out of an awareness that perfectly legitimate type2 Narrativist interests might thereby be better met.

Does that make more sense?

Paul
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2002, 07:08:28 AM »

First I'd relable Type 1 as Narativism: expolration of Character (Nar: Char to use the evolved shorthand), and Type 2 as Narativism: exploration of Setting (Nar: Setting).

I think there are two player types, then that prefer Narrativism. The Nar: Char focused player is what Paul describes as players. The Nar: Setting focused player is what Paul describes as the GM. But, for example, when Ron and I play Sorcerer, with him as GM, these roles are reversed. I personally am more interested in how my charcter's issues relate to the setting as a whole, while Ron tends to be more interested solely in the action created by the PCs.

This seems to be a straightforward correlation with my Sim leanings. I like settings to be deep, and provide issues from within to make the world seem more "complete". Whereas Ron probably realizes that this is not a neccesary part of the process to create a story (he wouldn't shy away from it, but neither do I think that he'd go out of his way for it as I might). Apologies to Ron for using him as a (possibly inaccurate) example.

This is why we Sim/Narr types prefer a combination of both styles of play over time. Note how close to the border it all skirts when you are considering "what's realistic" only in terms of what might be important to the character. So a combination of Sim: Char, Sim: Setting, Nar: Char, Nar: Setting (while a lot of style mixing) seems to me to work out alright.

Indeed, I personally haven't experienced pure Nar play, IMO. That is, even in games I've played run by Ron, occasionally decisions are made that are just pure Sim. The reunion crowd is moving into the gym? Well, we'll just mosey on in with the rest. Not a big, or important decision, but one that gets made, and one that's Sim, and reflects the surrounding reality.

As such, I think that most play that's described as functionally Narrativist is actually a mix that includes substantial amounts of Sim. I can imagine pure Narrativist play, and it would probably be heavily, heavily framed right up to only "important conflicts", and not have any other decision makeing. And that would be fine.

But what I've seen is a series like: unimportant Sim decision, unimportant Sim decision, unimportant Sim decision, BIG IMPORTANT NARRATIVIST DECISION, unimportant Sim decision, etc. These, "unimportant" decisions are actually anything but unimportant, really, as they help to sorta randomly frame the nature of the big important decisions. In addition to the other sorts of benefits they might provide. Note that none of the Sim play is neccessarily problematic. It can be. But, just as a Fortune based resolution system can be used as a springboard for creativity, so too can the Sim play in the interstices. "Abuse" of either will lead away from Narrativism. But as part of a Narrativist agenda, it's quite functional.

At least that's how I see it. As such, all I see in what you've written, Paul, is an acknowledgement of what most Narrativist play actually looks like, and why. Consider that few people may run as purely Narrativist games as you tend to of late. Not even Ron does, IMO. Hence his announced preference for Vanilla Narrativism, I'd hazzard.

Mike
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JMendes
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« Reply #5 on: December 12, 2002, 08:36:05 AM »

Ahoy, :)

Not a real point, just a request for clarification. I was under the impression that GNS and instances of play wouldn't quite apply here:

Quote from: Mike Holmes
But what I've seen is a series like: unimportant Sim decision, unimportant Sim decision, unimportant Sim decision, BIG IMPORTANT NARRATIVIST DECISION, unimportant Sim decision, etc.


In other words, the unimportant decisions aren't GNS instances of play, and as such, do not qualify for G, N or S. Only the important decision counts.

Again, this is not a rant, just a question. A simple yes or no (with backing arguments ;) will suffice.

Cheers,

J.
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lumpley
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« Reply #6 on: December 12, 2002, 09:49:15 AM »

Trying to understand...
Quote
I guess ultimately what I'm saying is that I'd like to see some games that, in addition to re-envisioning the traditional division of Authorial and Directorial power also re-envision notions of audience and responsibility, out of an awareness that perfectly legitimate type2 Narrativist interests might thereby be better met.
Quote
2) setting with a payload of conflict/situation ... in service of character protagonism.
Quote
...it's difficult to mentally separate type2 interests from oppressive gamemastering... With type2 play, only the GM is getting satisfaction of his type2 interests; the other players are trusting that their type2 interests will be accommodated by the group at another time... It takes a social fabric of great trust ... to enable type2.

So you're looking for a game that re-envisions audience and responsibility in order to support the social fabric of the group enough to allow strong (even seemingly oppressive) GM Narrativism.  

In other words, we have a buncha games teaching players to be type1 Narrativist players.  What about games that teach players to be type2 Narrativist GMs?  What about games that teach players how to trust type2 Narrativist GMs?

Am I in even the ballpark?

-Vincent
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #7 on: December 12, 2002, 09:58:56 AM »

Vincent,

You are the ballpark.

Paul
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2002, 10:02:40 AM »

I've been listening closely to what has been said here and I can't help thinking that it reads very much like you're using "Sim" (which I take to mean Simulationist) interchangeably with concepts of causality and emulation.  You may not be, but the text doesn't convey that at all (so you may wish to take a moment to clarify).

Secondarily, there seems to also be a usage, perhaps, of "Sim" to mean 'anything which isn't Narrativism.'  I could see that provided that Narrativism were a 'box' within Simulationism, but last time I heard they were competing priorities.

What it sounds like this thread started out as was 'I find that when I am not making clearly Narrativist decisions, I emulate the setting (or such).'  That doesn't sound at all like 'when I am not making dedicated Narrativist choices, I like to aggressively explore the Setting (or Character or Color or System or Situation).'

I agree with a lot of what Mike has said except I'm not sure how it applies in this light.  Paul, are you actually switching between "'Exploring' an Edwardian Premise is less important than 'following the causality for its own sake'" and "focusing on the 'Exploration' of (Setting, Character, Color, System, or Situation) isn't as important as the Edwardian Premise" from time to time within the game?  Or the more likely case (suggested somewhat by Mike) where you make frequent emulation-based decisions to support, frame, empower, and give relevance to the Edwardian Premise being 'Explored?'

I'm intrigued by the whole Type1 and Type2 thing; I think play focusing on Type2 is rather new in intentional design and play that doesn't show roots of Type1 is just newborn (would that be Universalis?).  I don't really have any intuition to offer, just keep up the good conversation!

Fang Langford
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2002, 10:07:51 AM »

Quote from: JMendes

Not a real point, just a request for clarification. I was under the impression that GNS and instances of play wouldn't quite apply here:
The example isn't a Sim "Instance of Play", it's a Narrativist Instance for precisely the reasons you percieve. And hence my statement that it's Narrativist play that we're describing. But the individual decisions could be characterized as I've described them, I think.

And they are important. Because one decision that a player makes is just how important a decision is. If the player sees it as relatively unimportant, then perhaps sim decision making is more appropriate in that case, for that player. If the player feels that the decision is important, then perhaps we see a Narrativist decision in that case. Overall, if there are enough Narrativist decisions being made in situations that all participants can agree are important, then it's Narrativist play. If there are few Narrativst decisions, or more importantly, certain "important" decisions are being made in a Sim mode, then it's Sim play.

But it's rarely 100% one way or the other, even when refering to "important" decisions. Anyhow, the interperetation of what decisions are in fact important will make a difference in perception. And as such we can only talk in generalities.

Is that clearer?

Mike
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Valamir
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« Reply #10 on: December 12, 2002, 10:12:34 AM »

Quote from: JMendes

In other words, the unimportant decisions aren't GNS instances of play, and as such, do not qualify for G, N or S. Only the important decision counts.

Again, this is not a rant, just a question. A simple yes or no (with backing arguments ;) will suffice.

Cheers,

J.


True.  If you do a search on Congruence, you'll find some really great threads that talk about this.  The other decisions may not be "unimportant" so much as it is indestinguishable which GNS priority they serve...because depending on what unknown thoughts are going on in the mind of the player the decision could be more than one thing.  So the "BIG IMPORTANT DECISION" that Mike refers to is basically the decision where there is no congruence, and the player has to make a choice between competeing modes...and THAT choice is the one that sets the GNS tone.
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #11 on: December 12, 2002, 10:24:56 AM »

Hey Fang,

You're right. I wasn't very clear. My use of "Sim" means Simulationism, as understood on The Forge. My use of "Sim-like" is a reference to the distribution of power strongly associated with Simulationist play, such that a GM has ownership of setting and situation. So, when I wrote that I was "thinking an awful lot about Sim," what I meant was that I was thinking an awful lot about satisfactions associated with Sim play having that power distribution, and what it would take in terms of social contract to achieve those satisfactions in the context of Narrativism.

Paul
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« Reply #12 on: December 12, 2002, 01:23:27 PM »

Well okay.  How's your desired type2 strong-GMed game different from (say) strong-GMed, limited Director-stance Sorcerer?  (I'm not saying it's not, I'm asking.)

How on earth do we re-envision notions of audience and responsibility, at the drop of a hat like this?  Should we start by examining our notions of audience and responsibility as they exist now?

-Vincent
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #13 on: December 12, 2002, 04:04:18 PM »

OK, here's what I'd call a "classic" GNS response to this issue (Hah! Me taking a "classic" angle on Nar issues when responding to PAUL CZEGE - that's funny.  But if there's no hole in this reasoning, it might help prevent some side tracks, so . . .  ):

Paul has ever-so-slightly mischaracterized what constitutes Nar.  Nar is "the creation, via role-playing, of a story with a recognizable theme."  His two authorial interests in the service of character protagonism are perfectly sound, but they aren't the Priorities that identify Narrativism.  If you are Prioritizing Setting over shared-group creation of a meaningful story, you're not doing Nar any more.  If you are Prioritizing Character over shared-group creation of a meaningful story, you're not doing Nar any more.  Doing  . . . whatever . . . even though it's in service of character protagonism, and for the benefit of the other participants (audience) - ceases (it seems to me) to be Nar if it ends up Prioritizing the explored element itself over the Nar-Story goal.  Insert your favorite focus-on-part vs. focus-on-whole analogy, if analogies are useful to ya.

This is why G, N, and S are seperate, and why we talk about having one ultimate priority.  If you're Nar, at some point Sim-Setting and Sim-Character et al. will fall by the wayside.  Even though they are part of what allows you to create Nar.  You must be willing to perform this sacrifice if you want Nar game play.

Yes, Paul's authorial interests are a tool to enhance Nar, but only in so far as they are not Prioritized.  And if anyone can tell me how to precisely identify this Prioritization boundry, I'd really appreciate it :-)

That theory discussion out of the way, I see the substance of Paul's question to be "how can we USE the explorative elements of Char and Setting in Nar play WITHOUT Prioritizing them - since Prioritizing 'em will override our Nar."  I suspect that there're a variety of answers depending on taste, but I'm wondering if there might not be some firm boundries . . . time for some thinking in that area.

But the question of type1 and type2 - at a fundamental level, there's no issue.  If you go so far as to Prioritize EITHER over the Nar goal, you ain't Nar no more.  So another way of approaching the type2 question - "How far can we stretch the building, primarily by the GM, of a consistent and dramatically useful Explorative Setting without trumping our Nar goal?  What techniques, mechanics, or other tools help us perform this stretch?"

Again, I'm gonna think on that one a bit.  Hope this is useful,

Gordon
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #14 on: December 13, 2002, 01:43:59 PM »

Hey Gordon,

Paul has ever-so-slightly mischaracterized what constitutes Nar. Nar is "the creation, via role-playing, of a story with a recognizable theme." His two authorial interests in the service of character protagonism are perfectly sound, but they aren't the Priorities that identify Narrativism.

I'm not talking about priorities at all. The priority of what I'm talking about is still collaborative creation of story with a recognizable theme. What I'm talking about is reapportioning responsibility for the components in interesting and productive ways -- productive in the sense that a player's interest in having ownership of setting and conflict is accommodated, and respected by the rest of the mechanics.
Think about the post-Elfs/post-Pool mechanics for player Authorial/Directorial power that have come to characterize Narrativist game designs baked at The Forge. These mechanics basically render unto the player a firehose of unregulated creative power over setting and conflict. The player is largely unconstrained in his ability to introduce new NPC's, locations, relationships, historical details, animosities, and power structures. It's not surprising to me that designers often gravitate to known genres in creating these games (like Matt Snyder did with Dust Devils) because a genre-inspired game carries an implicit requirement that players respect the genre in using their powers. Scott's struggle to not introduce the cannibalistic humanoids occurred in a game without a known genre context. The firehose of creative power is less of a problem within the context of genre.

So, I find myself writing stuff like, "I can't come up with any satisfying reason why players must be allocated equal portions of each kind of creative power provided by a game," and still don't think I'm getting my point across. How about an example:

A few weeks ago our group had an EPICS chargen session; Tom is going to run a superheroes game using the rules. Chargen for the game is basically making a list of ten items, some of which are chosen from pick lists and some of which are numeric ratings: name, role, motivation, personality, trademark, specialty, influence, power, survival points, and inhuman forces. You end up with a quite sketchy character. The game has mechanics for embellishing the character through decisions made during play. Survival Points are basically a combination of GM reward points and hit points and currency, so essentially, the more interesting you are in your handling of the character, as adjudicated by the GM, the more significant the character becomes to the story.

Look at that power breakdown. You have Authorial power relative to your character, adjudicated closely by the GM, and no Directorial power whatsoever. That's what I call a recipe for player respect of setting.

Yet, when we had our chargen session we went 'round and 'round, each of us struggling with a lack of a sense of direction, until we ultimately somehow came up with the notion that all the player characters would be sidekicks to more experienced heroes. And then it clicked for everyone, and there was enthusiasm from the players at having ownership of defining the hero/sidekick relationship. And don't read this as disparagement, because I'm incredibly excited about this forthcoming game, but with that sidekick notion we totally drifted EPICS. The game reserves control of conflicts for the GM. We stole it and gave it to the players. Influenced by Kickers, baked at The Forge games give players power over conflict creation as a matter of course. We drifted that same thing into EPICS, without even thinking about it, in service to player type1 interests, and at the expense of Tom's potential type2 interests. If you look at EPICS as written it very clearly prioritizes collaborative creation of story with delivered Authorial power to players, while at the same time putting the GM in a nice position relative to type2 interests he might have.

Vincent, that's why I think limited Director-stance Sorcerer isn't what I'm talking about. Although it doesn't preclude respect for type2 interests, it wouldn't deliver any support to such a social contract. Even if you gut Kickers from it, there's no mechanic that provokes respect for setting, there's nothing that aids the GM in making the player, please apprehend this setting and conflict/situation... request, and there's no redefinition of audience.

Paul
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