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Author Topic: "Playing my character" Part 2  (Read 6758 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: August 07, 2003, 06:28:38 AM »

In the "Playing my character" thread, John wrote,

Quote
I would be curious about Ron's example of the journalist he played in Terry Gant's Call of Cthulhu game. How would you have played that character differently if it were a Narrativist game? What choices did you make that went with Sim instead of Nar?


There is no one, single Narrativist way to play, any more than there are single/only Gamist or Simulationist ways. The answer to this question ranges over way too wide a range for on-line discourse, or maybe any discourse.

I'll specify it to Sorcerer. If we were working with a Lovecraft/Derleth Premise, as opposed to a Lovecraft/Derleth fixed situation, then it is a matter of individualized and group authorship to decide whether Outer Dark Horror really does crush the human spirit, sense of endeavor, progress, and all those other 1920s-view-of-Victoriana ideals. That is the Premise, whether verbalized or tacit doesn't matter.

Playing a protagonist character in such a game has four conceivable outcomes, per Kicker:

1. I make Outer Dark Horror my personal tool, for my own ends, and things work out in favor of all those ideals. (no Lovecraft or Derleth story that I can think of goes this route) Theme = Man can make do; bring it on, Universe.

2. I make Outer Dark Horror my personal tool, or try to reach some kind of accord with it, and I fail - it swallows me up, and those ideals are revealed as shallow, presumptuous illusions. (The Thing on the Doorstep) Theme = "Man as Master" is a shallow, presumptuous illusion in the face of an Absurd universe (very technical, that term "Absurd").

3. I battle Outer Dark Horror with every decent tool at my disposal, and I succeed ... for now, or for a very little "sanity" space. (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Call of Cthulhu) Theme = "Man as Master" is a shallow presumptuous illusion, but one that's worth fighting for, at least in terms of one's personal experience. (Kind of Camus, this one)

4. I battle Outer Dark Horror with every decent tool at my disposal, and we gibber and die, because it's too strong, and it's In Us as well as Out There. (various other stories; I like Pickman's Model best) Theme = "Man"? "Man"? There's no "Man" in the first place, to be Master or otherwise; we're all nuts.

What makes this hypothetical game we're talking about Narrativist is that these outcomes (a) range more widely than the canonical outcomes, especially since there might be a few more I didn't list; and most importantly (b) are utterly up to the events during play, rather than being fixed in place by a pre-planned climax event. In other words, we do not know what "point" is going to be made, and we have committed to arriving at such a conclusion via the medium of play itself.

Thus my prioritized choices as a player have very little to do with "acting" my character. That would be a chassis or underlying component of the important choices and decisions, which would be, whatever ends up with any of the above Themes arising and being established emotionally and creatively. The GM's back-story and playing of the NPCs is just as dynamic as any player's use of a player-character toward this end.

It's also up to the group whether different Themes emerge for separate characters or sets of characters, or whether everyone's mutually reinforcing one of them. Doesn't really matter which.

Whereas in the actual sessions that we did play, "acting" my character was the priority because the Theme was fixed in place, #2 above as it happens, which isn't surprising in a Hastur-based scenario. My role was to latch onto that, and realize it into the imaginary shared space for my enjoyment and everyone else's - in other words, straightforward Simulationist play. By the term "acting," in this post, I am staying consistent with the scripted quality of acting in the theater.

Oh, and just to be clear, my use of the terms "choice" and "decision" have nothing to do with requiring Narrativist play to be dry and abstract. Playing in-character and experiencing the sensation of the character "telling me what to do" are perfectly consistent with what I'm talking about.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #1 on: August 07, 2003, 08:44:47 AM »

Hmm. I'll play Cthulhu's Advocate here.

I've always felt that CoC was very Gamist as designed, but commonly drifted to Sim. Because the scenarios are usually set up such that if the players play very carefully, and take extreme precautions, they can achieve the win conditions in either 1 or 3 below. It makes a mockery of the genre to try, however (players are encouraged to carry shotguns, tommy guns, and dynamite, or anything more powerful they can find), but that's how a lot of play goes, IME. The "Step On Up" involves this proper outfitting, and trying to search for the proper information so that you'll be prepared when the time comes.

The non-Gamist play seems to come in with groups who, aware that condition #1 does not occur in the literature, just assume the rule from the It Came From the Late, Late, Late Show, and "act appropriately stupid". Well, not stupid, per se, but in genre. Such that your chances are even less than the slim odds of "winning" when playing Gamist.

So assuming that the "Win" has been taken away by not playing Gamist,  there are still two options left available in terms of losing - doing so fighting, or doing so trying to co-opt the power of the mythos. And I've done both at varying times. This does seem to be a choice left to the player, even in "loser" Cthulhu.

I'd say that this is available in most scenarios. Do you read the book and try to learn the spells for what they're worth, or do you throw it into the fireplace at the first sign of SAN loss? So, I think I see some slight support for Narrativism amongst the otherwise Sim play.

Let's posit that such a case exists in play. My character is given the book. I can read it, or not read it at this point. Either creates a theme. Is there any way at this point that I can make a Sim decision? Or, given the presence of the dillemma, must the decision be Narrativist?

This seems to be the point that we're all trying to get to. Is it actually a player decision that makes something Sim or Nar, or is it soley the presence of a situation in which a decision made relative to it must be one or the other. If Simulationism is an observable decision making behavior, what would it look like at this point?

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2003, 12:55:42 PM »

Too broad a brush, Mike. Remember how I went to all that effort to specify that my Sorcerer example was a tiny, specific portion of the breadth of Narrativist play? Same goes for the Call of Cthulhu example - there's no way I can give you The One Sim Character Decision to make everyone go "ooohhhh, I get it."

This particular example of Simulationism involved heavy Exploration of Situation, and it really didn't matter which character went loopy-weird, which went loopy-murderous, which stayed sane just long enough to realize how bad it all really became at the end, or which did whatever else. All the options were consonant with the Theme in question, which, as I say, was inherent in the to-be-played list of outcomes and events under the control of one person.

I also think I covered your basic question as well as I possibly could in the "Oh shit! I'm playing Narrativist" section of the Simulationism essay.

Best,
Ron
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2003, 02:56:07 PM »

My (over?) simplified version of Ron's initial point - "it's Sim and not Nar if the established issue as play begins, reinforced context as play occurs, and observed outcome when play completes are all 2."

My (over?) simplified version of Mike's inquiry - "if we allow 2 and/or 4, is that enough to allow for Nar  - or are we confined to Sim because we eliminated 1, 3 and maybe other possible options?"

My version of a response, informed by Ron's and the aforementioned "Shit! I'm playing Narrativist" section of the Sim essay: Well, it's not about the number of identifiable options.  We could break 2 down into lots of little sub-options, and that doesn't make a 2-only game Nar.  Are "2and4" (as a unit) the established issue, reinforced context, and observed outcome of play?  Or are they truly seperate entities that participant choice and events in play can comment upon and distingish as importantly different phenomena?  The first is a Sim-focus, the second is more Nar-accessible.

Now, the million-dollar question - how do you tell the difference between those two?  I'll offer up that . . . "homogeneity?" of pre, during, and post-play understanding to be one reasonable indicator, but that's certainly not an all-inclusive analysis.  I mean, in an all-2 Sim context you might still illuminate aspects of Man's presumption in an absurd universe that weren't fully identified before play, and a Nar game can play out 100% within "genre" (or whatever) expectations.  The key (I guess) is the active engagement of the participants in the issues AS issues, rather than as background.  Note that that's NOT "just" background - background is important, and a perfectly viable place to put your creative enery.  Still, not a very concrete, identifiable action, but perhaps another tool.

I think there's some stuff here (and especially in the "Shit! I'm playing Narrativist" section) that also adresses the whole "in-character" issue, but I'm not sure it fits in this thread - I guess I'll leave this here, and hope the added persepective is somehow useful.

Gordon
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John Kim
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« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2003, 04:52:30 PM »

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
Now, the million-dollar question - how do you tell the difference between those two?  I'll offer up that . . . "homogeneity?" of pre, during, and post-play understanding to be one reasonable indicator, but that's certainly not an all-inclusive analysis.  I mean, in an all-2 Sim context you might still illuminate aspects of Man's presumption in an absurd universe that weren't fully identified before play, and a Nar game can play out 100% within "genre" (or whatever) expectations.  The key (I guess) is the active engagement of the participants in the issues AS issues, rather than as background.  Note that that's NOT "just" background - background is important, and a perfectly viable place to put your creative energy.  Still, not a very concrete, identifiable action, but perhaps another tool.

It seems to me that your dividing between Narrativist and Simulationist is essentially what in other creative endeavors is dividing between "art" and "entertainment".  Unfortunately, while there is underlying truth to this distinction, people disagree wildly on which is which.  I believe this is simply because different people engage to different issues, and focus on different parts of the work.  

As for putting your creative energy into background -- that seems contradictory to me.  If someone is focussing on and putting their energy into something, then by definition it is foreground, not background.  I would phrase it instead that the difference is in what is in the foreground.  That is, are moral issues in the foreground?  

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
 I think there's some stuff here (and especially in the "Shit! I'm playing Narrativist" section) that also adresses the whole "in-character" issue, but I'm not sure it fits in this thread - I guess I'll leave this here, and hope the added persepective is somehow useful.  

Well, I'll throw in my comments on that section.  The two examples from that section are about personality mechanics from GURPS and Pendragon, compared with Sorcerer and Riddle of Steel.  It is interesting to me, because myself and nearly all of the other "simulationist" (in the Threefold sense) crowd on RGFA were fairly rabidly opposed to personality mechanics like those in GURPS and Pendragon.  Our opposition wasn't phrased as drama, but rather because "people aren't like that".  However, this implies drama,  because characters being understandable drives engagement with those characters.  

Of course, Ron himself explicitly pointed out that GNS Simulationism is different than RGFA Threefold Simulationism.  However, I think the complete contrast here may contribute to some confusion.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2003, 07:11:41 PM »

Well, that all just left me in the dust. I can't see any merit to the art vs. entertainment distinction, in any circumstances or for any media, and I also don't see how it relates to anything discussed so far. A mileage thing, clearly.

Also, the foreground vs. background seems out of left field. Don't know what you're talking about at all.

Best,
Ron
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John Kim
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« Reply #6 on: August 07, 2003, 07:37:17 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Also, the foreground vs. background seems out of left field. Don't know what you're talking about at all.

That's OK, I often feel the same way about what you are saying.  Think of it this way -- if we all were saying the same thing, it would be boring.  

Did my comments about RGFA simulationism and personality mechanics make any sense?
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2003, 08:58:43 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Also, the foreground vs. background seems out of left field. Don't know what you're talking about at all.


Hi Ron, maybe I can sort that out.

Gordon introduced foreground and background as shorthand for whether or not the theme is within the purview of participants to determine through play (foreground), or exists from the outset as an established immutable aspect of the shared imagined space (background).

John then re-defined "foreground" along completely different (or at least, much less clear) lines, as whatever players are focusing on and putting their energy into in play. He then suggested that "are moral issues in the foreground?" should be the key question for ascertaining Narrativism (within the specific range of example play we're discussing here, presumably). Thus, essentially, John is proposing that Narrativist play in the example under discussion is contingent on players focusing on and putting their energy into moral issues.

John, the test you propose is inconclusive. As a player in a hypothetical Cthulhu game, I could "focus on" and "put energy into" portraying the inevitable crushing of my character's belief that "Man Is The Master, So No Power Is Forbidden." (What could make it inevitable is if it were part of the game's fundamental assumptions from the get-go, rather than being determined through play, that such a belief must be naive and lead to ruin.) Or I could "focus on" and "put energy into" determining through play whether my character's belief stands or falls when put to the test. The two cases are very different; only one of them could be describing Narrativist play.

- Walt
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2003, 11:15:06 PM »

Walt - thanks, yes, you describe well where I was going with "background" as shorthand (I actually didn't use or really have a use for "foreground" at all), and (IMO) seem to have nailed where John took the meaning as well.  John - I mean background the way Walt describes, I'm not sure how to apply your focus/attention meaning to the current issue.

I also didn't mean to imply anything about entertainment vs. art.  I'm of the belief that Sim play has as much claim to "art" as Nar.  From a post I made in an older thread:
Quote
. . . if a decision is consistent with the environment, and previous decisions - if it seems almost inevitably 'correct' (to steal Jack's line - "Seems like fate", indeed) - Sim-folk (as I can be, sometimes) will get pure joy from making that decision "real" via the game no matter the story/competitive/ANYTHING payoff it might involve.

There is an art to making Sim-decisions in this fashion.  It is a creative act.  It's just not a creative act primarily oriented around Nar Premise.


That says it better than anything else I can come with at the moment.  Hope it helps,

Gordon
(EDITED a bit about foreground/background, 'cause I really wasn't using foreground at all - more background as synonym for environment, both of which are really shorthand for the 5 Explored elements in GNS terms - I think)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: August 08, 2003, 05:51:36 AM »

Hello,

John, in commenting on a section in my Simulationist essay, wrote,

Quote
The two examples from that section are about personality mechanics from GURPS and Pendragon, compared with Sorcerer and Riddle of Steel. It is interesting to me, because myself and nearly all of the other "simulationist" (in the Threefold sense) crowd on RGFA were fairly rabidly opposed to personality mechanics like those in GURPS and Pendragon. Our opposition wasn't phrased as drama, but rather because "people aren't like that". However, this implies drama, because characters being understandable drives engagement with those characters.

Of course, Ron himself explicitly pointed out that GNS Simulationism is different than RGFA Threefold Simulationism. However, I think the complete contrast here may contribute to some confusion.


In my view, most of the categorization on RGFA represented wrangling over techniques rather than over goals and priorities. Being personally opposed to personality mechanics such as we're talking about doesn't mean very much, in argumentative or clarifying terms, about the goals in question.

I'm long familiar with the outlook that non-mechanics-based play, regarding character behavior, is "more [fill-in-the-blank]" than otherwise. Fill-in-the-blank seems to accept just about any positive adjective one can think of, "drama" in this case. As such, I think that this technique needs to be recognized as a technique, period, and to be assessed in terms of its applications toward multiple possible goals in GNS terms, not associated with any particular one.

Best,
Ron

P.S. The phrase "Ron himself" smacks of The Big Man, or guru-think. It's especially unwelcome to me in this forum.
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John Kim
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« Reply #10 on: August 08, 2003, 11:04:36 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
In my view, most of the categorization on RGFA represented wrangling over techniques rather than over goals and priorities. Being personally opposed to personality mechanics such as we're talking about doesn't mean very much, in argumentative or clarifying terms, about the goals in question.

I agree.  The advantage is that discussing technique is a little more concrete -- i.e. I can hopefully tell whether I am using X technique.  I can further say that I tend to like games which use techniques X and Y, but I don't like games which use technique Z.  These are at least semi-visible features of play.  The disadvantage, as you note, is that the same techniques can be used towards different goals.  

On the other hand, goals can be much more slippery.  Take, for example, eating chocolate.  I can describe what kinds of chocolate I like -- i.e. the visible features of it like dark, white, milk, semi-sweet, etc.  Now, you can ask: "But what is your goal in eating chocolate?"   At that point I'm a little stumped, though.  I eat it because I like it.  That probably means something on a deeper level, but I consider it pretty imponderable.  

I feel the same way about some of your Nar/Sim questions.  For example, I can refer to a campaign which I liked.  I can tell you what I was consciously focussing on, and I can tell you what techniques I used, and I can tell you about whether I liked it.  In broader discussion, I can talk about my patterns of like and dislike within that campaign and in other campaigns.  You can ask, "But was your goal to address a Premise, or to explore Character?"  As with the chocolate, I don't have a good answer.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #11 on: August 08, 2003, 11:53:53 AM »

But the objective question is, Did "playing the character" play to a player chosen theme? If the decision was made such that, say, the GM had things set up to go that way, such that by "playing in character" you ended up playing to a theme of his choice, then it's Sim. If you ended up creating a new theme, one not intended by the GM or other player to be a result of their manipulation of the situation, then it's Narrativist. Even if it was "accidental" so to speak. You made a choice, in this case based on "playing in character" and the result was a theme? Then you're playing Narrativist.

Again, given the mostly "open" GMing of Water Uphil, I think that play would be Narrativist for the most part. That is, given that the GM isn't putting themes in front of the characters to follow, then the players must be creating them at times. Either by choice, or by encountering Narrativist opportunities (those moments where it is most easilty possible to create themes), when they occur "at random".

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: August 08, 2003, 01:02:47 PM »

Hello,

This thread has achieved the goals I had in mind when starting it. I hope people bear in mind that I presented examples of two game sessions, one hypothetical, that represent two specific sub-sets of Narrativist and Simulationist play - not be-all and end-all definitive and complete paragons of those forms of play.

John, I think that GNS goals are extremely concrete and identifiable when we start talking about social reinforcement, communication, and instances of communicated creativity. Mileages vary, clearly. Also, the issue of whether Drama methods achieve (e.g.) Narrativist goals better than other methods is getting into a new discussion, for another thread perhaps.

But anyway, that's that for this one; it's closed. Thanks everyone. New thread for different stuff.

Best,
Ron
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Jason Lee
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« Reply #13 on: August 08, 2003, 01:07:17 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
But the objective question is, Did "playing the character" play to a player chosen theme? If the decision was made such that, say, the GM had things set up to go that way, such that by "playing in character" you ended up playing to a theme of his choice, then it's Sim. If you ended up creating a new theme, one not intended by the GM or other player to be a result of their manipulation of the situation, then it's Narrativist. Even if it was "accidental" so to speak. You made a choice, in this case based on "playing in character" and the result was a theme? Then you're playing Narrativist.


But the theme is a question, not an answer.  If the GM injects a theme into play, and the character responds via its set of beliefs you're playing Nar because you're addressing/creating the theme - what your character would do with the question.  Even in the case of illusionism, where you don't actually control the outcome, you're still addressing the theme, you just don't know it.

I'm seeing an implication here (I might just be googly-eyed) that the distinction between Sim|Char and Nar|Char is just that Sim doesn't have options for how to respond to conflict.  But, if you don't have options it can't rightly be called exploration of character - so that doesn't sync (if anyone is actually even meaning to say that).

EDIT:  Cross post with Ron's 'this is closed' post.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: August 08, 2003, 01:16:57 PM »

Hi Jason,

Sigh ... I hate cross-posts when I'm closing a thread ...

Anyway, I think your concern is met by recognizing that Premise is a question and Theme is an answer, in the framework that I'm using to discuss Narrativist play.

Seriously, now, everyone. This thread is closed.

Best,
Ron
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