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Beeg Horseshoe Theory Revisited

Started by Mike Holmes, May 29, 2003, 03:13:46 PM

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Mike Holmes

Fine, Ralph wants to put out that I've got some half-assed unformed theory working? I'll play along. Besides this has been eating away at me for so long that maybe it's time I got t out there. :-)

Waaay back Jared posted the Beeg Horseshoe Theory. In it, he said that Sim didn't exist. He didn't really give a reason, but he stated it anyhow. And he sticks behind his point to this day.

Well, there's something about the model that stuck in my head the whole time. And what I've come to accept is that it seems to me that nobody plays RPGs in a complete vaccuum of lack of desire for G or N. I mean I can theorize of what such play might look like, but that's not the same as saying it happens.

Now, way back then, I challenged the "theory" by saying that I liked Sim, and felt that it was marginalizing to say that this was not a style of play. Have I changed my mind? No, I have not.

A while back, someone (please step forward whoever you are) that these things might be thought of as a couple of different axes. And over time, I've started to accept this more or less.

Essentially, you have two questions in a decision. One, am I making this as a "game decision" or a "story decision", G or N? And secondly, how much am I taking into account Versimilitude* as a goal of the decision. These are both affected on every single decision.  Even if you don't actually think about them, the fact that we're playing in a "shared imagined environment" makes the question important. Especially to the other players.

Thus a decision seems to me to be Low Sim Gamism, perhaps, or High Sim Narrativism, or any other cross. Gamism and Narrativism are not binary either, but vary from a center that's a compromise. Think of it as a two dimensional space with the decision's position being determined by two vectors at right angles. So instead of the Beeg Horseshoe, we've got a plane actually.

What does this say? Well, that in terms of game support, all games are hybrid. And this seems patently true to me. All game support Exploration. The question is to what extent they are dedicated to Exploration being done "right". That is adherence to some sort of setting specific guidelines.

This is just the preliminary overview of the concept. I wasn't really prepared to deliver it. So my thoughts will probably get highly refined as people challenge the concept (as I hope they will). But it has more impact than this post may seem to imply or is obvious up front.

*I don't use Sim, because I'm trying to differentiate how this theory varies from GNS.

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Clinton R. Nixon


I had a nice talk about this the other day, and the more I think about it, the more I think you're right. It's neat, because this isn't exactly the Beeg Horseshoe: it's not that Simulationism doesn't exist, it's that it's everywhere.

This also explains why Narrativism and Gamism look like kissing cousins, while Simulationism has always been the weird uncle in the closet: it's not the same thing, a different axis than Narrativism and Gamism, always used with them, but a definition of another part of an RPG.

In this light, the term is odd, though. Exploration can't replace it: all games have Exploration. The example I'd give that's baffling me is my own post-apocalyptic Sorcerer and Sword game: when we played this game, I injected a lot of surrealism. Bizarre conjoined married couples showed up, one villain kept coming back no matter how many times he died, the geography and world changed during play often. So, it was low on the Simulationism, as it didn't simulate much of anything, real or unreal. It was very high on the Exploration, though.

How does something like that fit into this structure?
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games

Mike Holmes

Like I said, I'm not going to call it Simulationism because that would indicate by the older model that it's a type of decision by itself. And doesn't indicate the spectrum nature. I think that it's precisely that it is like Exploration, however, in that all games have some level of adherence to in-game reality along some spectrum. But I'll leave that term alone.

As to your specific game, however, it all depends on what the "rules" for the world are. This is the old "reality" caveat. Also, you're to an extent making the Simulationism must simulate error.

So I'm a little stuck for terms at the moment. What I need is a term for the spectrum that goes from at one extreme ignoring the "reality" of the game completely, and on the other pays so much atttention to the in-game conventions that it almost blots out the other axis. Plausibility almost works for this one, but not quite. Internal Consistency?

And the other spectrum should be named, as well. Something like the Challenge/Theme axis.

And yes, this does explain the percieved relationsip between N/G without the too commonly repeated statement that they are similar. They aren't, but one can shift from one to the other while ignoring the other axis easily. It's precisely shifting to the two axis view that allows us to see the difference.

Again, I want to point out that I think I'm just reiterating an idea that's not new. I do think that I have some new ideas on implications, however.

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Hi Mike,

This is another one of those weird, "everyone's thinking along the same lines" deals.  Paul and I were discussing this thread last night:

which he jokingly referred to as the Dark Secret of the Forge.  Anyway, minus the contentiousness and the motives behind Sim goals, your new take would definitely explain a bit more on how G/N are very different than S.  I personally can get with G/N, but S as a goal alone has always eluded me.

How's this for a term?  Fidelity.  High Fidelity=Staying close to the plausibilty as defined by the game/setting/etc.  Low Fidelity=willingness to discard or ignor it at will for other purposes?

So Riddle of Steel would be a High Fidelity Narrativist game, right?


Mike Holmes

Quote from: BankueiSo Riddle of Steel would be a High Fidelity Narrativist game, right?
Absolutely. Now can you give me a name for that other spectrum?

What I like about this is that it does segregate the "sim" urge, but it doesn't marginalize it. So I can have my games like TROS.

Anyhow can anyone see how this relates to the recent threads on incoherence and hybrid games? Or to Ron's claims in the essay about Sim tending to get relegated to a "subordinate" role? Lot's to talk about in terms of these things I think.

QuoteHigh Fidelity=Staying close to the plausibilty as defined by the game/setting/etc

I'd change that to: Adhering to certain conventions of the setting for their own sake.

That is a Narrativist decision can be Plausible, but still not have this quality. It's an odd quality to name because it serves to support a few goals, but ones that are tangential to the other axis. That is, that thing that I call Sim Immersion is served by High Fidelity, but also exploration of certain elements outside character can also be a goal. I'm not defining goals, here, just decision making (which is why it's an alteration of GNS). The decisions as they exist on this spectrum may have many goals, but they all have things like "Realism" and "Detailism" and the like in common.

It's not Plausibility. It's "In-Game". I know that's not clear, but it's a hard concept to get across. Can anyone else restate it better (or refute it)?

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Speaking of people all being on the same page, isn't this "Fidelity" about adherence to Baseline?  I mean, for me this is the primary axis of the Baseline-Vision spectrum: adherence or non-adherence "to the plausibilty as defined by the game/setting/etc." as Chris put it.  Interesting to think about Sim, i.e. essentially pure Exploration, as somewhat different from G & S.

Chris Lehrich

Clinton R. Nixon

This is a small post on naming:

Chris - Fidelity is just about the best term I can imagine.

Mike - I really like Challenge/Theme. I know it's not one term, but one term that you can apply a quantifier to is going to be hard to find for this purpose. Challenge and Theme get down to what Gamism and Narrativism are all about while getting rid of the annoying terms of "game" and "narrative".
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games

Mike Holmes

Quote from: clehrichSpeaking of people all being on the same page, isn't this "Fidelity" about adherence to Baseline?  I mean, for me this is the primary axis of the Baseline-Vision spectrum: adherence or non-adherence "to the plausibilty as defined by the game/setting/etc." as Chris put it.
I can't be sure, I really don't get what Basline is anymore (if I ever did). If baseline is simply that which the player is supposed to find familliar, then I don't think so. But I probably have what it's supposed to be wrong.

This axis is supposed to be about how devoted the player is to the idea that the game-world has some sort of tangible value itself, and not as a construct such as a game or a story. Those qualities are added separately.

Does that make it clearer?

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I'll just (somewhat smugly I might add) note that there were several threads started by me about that time railing against the definition of Simulationism as it was then understood.  In fact, my frustration with the large amounts of sillyness being expressed about simulationism at that time led me to team up with Scarlet Jester and work on the GENder model.

Its eerie how similiar Mikes initial post to this thread (and others chiming in to agree) is to that old GENder model...I might still have some drafts of it on my harddrive somewhere before SJ got fed up with the whole thing and quit.

IMO, I'll note the following:

1) in ages past I stated many times both here and on GO that Simulationism (or what Mike here is searching for an alternative term for) existed seperately from the G and the N along a different axis.   Going back and reading Thread 24 you'll note that I referred to
QuoteThus, if one is designing mechanics that are a simulation of something, this is completely independent of the type of game it is. You can make a Gamist Game with simulationist mechanics or an Explorative Game with simulationist mechanics or even a Narrativist Game with simulationist mechanics. In other words Simulation is not an objective, it is one of the paths that can be used to achieve an objective. And for those who say that Simulation can be an objective in itself, yes this can be handled in GEN too.

2) Simulationism then went through some growing pains in which it was redefined to include a whole bunch of other stuff.

3) That other stuff was then carved back out and relabeled Exploration and given a new place above GNS.

4) Which leaves the S right back in the position it was of not really fitting in.

Strangely enough...having added Exploration to GNS, if you carve out the S and put it on a different axis you know what you wind up with?


a slightly more advanced version of GENder (to be expected since SJ and I had just gotten started on it when he departed GO for parts unknown), but GENder, none the less.

Matt Wilson


This is really good. I can still picture it as a horseshoe of sorts, where the influence of the various S factors can outweigh the G or N factors, like maybe the two ends of the shoe point up, and the S is gravity.

Mike Holmes

Very good Ralph, except that I'm not proposing that Exploration isn't a factor in the other modes. I mean certainly one is exploring the character is one makes a Narrativist decision about some character issue. So Gender is out. I do admit that I'm probably influenced by your posts, however (imagine that). :-)

No, the primary difference here is that I'm saying that G and S or N and S priorities are not mutually exclusive. This is bigtime GNS heresy, and I was wondering when I'd get called on it. But what I'm proposing is that over a single decision, or even over the "instance of play" that one can have Sim/Nar decisions, or Sim/Gam decisions. Or to be precise that my model considers them separately. Which is important because Incoherency only occurs IMO, when one or both axes have problematically disparate play. Thus you have Fidelity Incoherence or G/N Incoherency (or both).

Now, on to Ron's biggest point (in a self-critical manner). What about play in which a player comes to a certain decision point at which his decision can only be one or another, say Sim or Nar. Well, for one thing, that's simply putting the Fidelity (can you tell I really like that term) thing at a high or low level. There's no question about the other axis, and where the decision stands.

And since GNS is now only supposed to be considered in terms of "instances of play" anyhow, these single decisions don't matter. Over the course of several decisions there's no way that there won't be possibilities to change from one to the other level of Fidelity. So over the long haul there will be both an observable amount of Fidelity, and a certain placement on the other axis as well.

(just to give Ron something to chew on once he get's here)

Note the other thing about this is that it neatly avoids the problems of control that bring up The Impossible Thing.

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Mike Holmes

Quote from: Matt WilsonI can still picture it as a horseshoe of sorts, where the influence of the various S factors can outweigh the G or N factors, like maybe the two ends of the shoe point up, and the S is gravity.
I wouldn't say "outweigh" but potentially overshadow, yes.

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I'm not really sure I'm understanding the hairs that are getting split here, so let me bumble around a bit and tell me how far off the mark I am.

You seem to be saying that Sim play doesn't really seem like a mode of its own because the other two modes still include Exploration and decisions in those modes can adhere to a whole range of Verisimilitude.  

I can definitely see that.  It's like the old Axis and Allies debate my friend and I had.  He insisted that the rules allowed you to build infantry anywhere.  I insisted that 1) the rules didn't say that and 2) it didn't make any sense, since troops need manufactured goods life uniforms and guns.  Both arguments were essentially Gamist.  But I had the added objection based in Verisimilitude.

However, sim play as defined in GNS still makes a lot of sense to me because it talks about player priorities.  In the argument between my friend and I, we were both still prioritized in a Gamist mode.  For me, Verisimilitude was brought in as an added argument against someone who clearly didn't know the rules.  A Narrativist decision still prioritizes the thematic elements.  Perhaps the decision also supports Verisimilitude, but isn't that more of an accident or coincidence than anything else?

I can also see where you're saying that Sim play easily incorporates elements of the other two modes.  However, I see what I do in designing a Sim scenario as quite different from what others do in designing Gam or Nar scenarios.

Let's say I want a scenario that features a significant combat challenge.  

The Gamist sits down, comes up with something challenging based on the party's strength and then comes up with a reason why they're there.  Sometimes the reason is good (the dragon woke up because an evil mage summoned it) and sometimes not ("You find a dragon.  He's about 100 feet long."  "Wait, I thought the cave entrance was only 10 feet tall?")

The Narrativist starts by asking what point he wants to make (or how the battle will facilitate the players' themes).  Then he designs the battle to fit.  Like the Gamist, this may have high Verismilitude or not.

As a Simulationist, I sit down and say "OK, who have they upset recently?  How strong is that person and how upset is he?"  I figure out what makes sense (has Verisimilitude) and then see if its too difficult for the players to beat.  If it is, I start thinking about other factors that might give a more balanced challenge.  It's only after I come up with a situation that I ask about the difficulty or try to balance the challenge. Likewise, I only look for thematic meaning in the battle after its over - trying to think about that ahead of time seems almost pointles to me.

So, for me, all three GNS modes have some crossover, but the model's focus is on priorities.   I do see Sim play an as entirely different priority from the other two modes.  If its the weird uncle to the other two, perhaps that's because the priority is in the game world (as opposed to competition or theme, which both happen at the player level).

It seems like trying to construct an axis or horseshoe model isn't really changing GNS.  It just seems to be asking "What's going on along side the prioritized mode?"
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Mike Holmes

Don't have a lot of time, I have to go eat a few dozen chicken wings. But here's the short answer until tomorrow.

Ron says that plausibility is important to Nar play. I posit that in fact both Fidelity and Narrative priorities can be put forth as primary, and, in fact, are usually until a trade off is required. Then and only then does play move to that low Fidelity, high Narrativism region.

This explains a phenomenon that I've been trying to explain for a long while. In movies or books, whathaveyou, often authors will step outside the bounds of Fidelity to get something that makes a plot special. Some people will buy this, and some people will not ("transporters can't do that!")

The people who will swallow this are the people who have more tolerance for low fidelity play. The others want high fidelity all the time. At least in that their tastes for each of these forms coincide.

Yes, to an extent this is very much the same theory, but I think it breaks it down in ways that have profound implications. We'll get to some more of those tomorra.

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Jason Lee

Challenge/Theme doesn't seem right.  Theme implies the GNS definition of Nar.

One thing that has always bothered me about the relationship between Sim and Nar is how narrow the definition of Nar was.  Any Story Now priority that isn't for the reason of Ergi's Premise falls under Sim Story or gets labeled as not-an-rpg-but-cooperative-storytelling.  For example:  Story Now for the sake of genre adherance, for comedy, for gee-wiz-bang-cool-like-it-would-happen-in-the-movies, or for its own sake.  All metagame, but non-Nar and non-Gam.  That kind of stuff is what validates Sim as an independent priority in the GNS model, except for the fact that they happen to be metagame reasons so they don't technically fall under Sim either.  Leaving me with that 'grr, smashy smash' feeling.

However, Story Now as an independent priority (which Nar would be a subset of) is an acceptable counterpart to Challenge in my mind.  But, gee, isn't Challenge/Story Now Axis an ugly term?  Trouble is, I also can't think of a single word that doesn't favor one end of the axis.

I also think that in regards to this model Exploration should be left floating in its own island, much like Stance.  It shouldn't rest above or below, but be part of a matrix.  Such that you could say High Fidelity|Story Now|Explore Char|Author Stance.  Different players with these same goals may choose to layer them differently, and if they ever have to choose between them they may choose different categories as a primary motivation.

Let's see...Baseline and Vision.  Gonna need a solid definition, but...  My understanding was that Baseline was sort of the framework of expectations you can draw on to fill in unstated paramaters and Vision was the elements you needed to specify to the reader as coloring and diverging from your Baseline.  I see similarities, but it doesn't seem necessary true that expectations would be high fidelity and divergent elements low fidelity.  However, there may be a bit of a connection here...I distinctly remember jumping up and down and pointing at Fang while yelling "Beeg Horseshoe Theory!  Beeg Horseshoe Theory!" in one of those threads.
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