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Author Topic: Clarifying Simulationism  (Read 20507 times)
M. J. Young
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« on: September 24, 2003, 07:34:32 PM »

I'm trying to catch up with all the posts over on the http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=8092">Front-loaded relationship-driven Nar/Sim overlap thread, and I'm getting boggled with all the "this is what sim means to me" stuff.

Well, I don't think that it's helpful for everyone to have his (or her) own notion of what the word means unless it leads to a consensus; and having played simulationist in several different ways, I'd like to try to get that consensus started.

There is something almost clinical about simulationist play. Simulationism is in a sense about modelling a reality to see what happens.

I'm going to go out on a limb and bring in the computer Whopper from Wargames. The kid wanted to play the game because he wanted to beat the game; he was playing gamist. But can it be said that the computer wanted to win? The computer is programmed to play that game, global thermonuclear war, over and over and over again and again, modelling every possible outcome, to see who wins and who loses each time. It doesn't care whether the U. S. or the Soviet Union wins; it cares whether it can find out who wins.

Now, what Whopper is doing looks gamist; but it can't really be gamist from Whopper's perspective. The computer can't want to earn the respect of meeting the challenge. It knows nothing of challenge; it only knows outcomes. It has been programmed to optimize whatever side or sides it is playing for a winning outcome, but it's still not playing gamist--it is playing simulationist, asking what would happen if every participant played as well as he could, and which choices actually are "as well as he could".

It is possible that simulationist play can inadvertently result in challenge or in theme; the point is, the player doesn't care. He's not there for the challenge or the theme, and if that emerges, fine, and if it doesn't, fine.

This means that simulationists can get along with narrativists and gamists reasonably well, as long as the simulationists don't feel like the others are tinkering with the model to get some desired outcome (whether theme or challenge). The gamists and narrativists might find the simulationist play irksome, though, if the simulationist is choosing what the character probably would do which is actually boring and doesn't promote challenge/theme when there was another plausible action (deemed by the player less probable) which was not chosen.

One of the earliest Multiverser playtesters was apparently simulationist. His "theory of the verse" (an explanation each player character invents to explain what is happening to him) was that he had been knocked out of the real world into the realm of human fantasy, and that he had the opportunity to watch the stories unfold around him. He wasn't interested in creating stories or meeting challenges. He just wanted to see what each world was like, what was happening in it, and where it was going. Now, if other characters (player or non-player) asked for his help, he would usually become involved to the degree necessary to help them--but he still looked at it as part of the experiment, the exploration of what is happening in this world, whether his involvement made any measurable difference, and what that difference was. He wasn't trying to win. He wasn't addressing themes. He was playing with worlds as petri dishes, in which his actions were part of an experiment to see what would happen.

Haven't you ever been in a game situation in which you just wanted to do something to see what effect it had on the world? You come to the balancing rock and decide to see what happens if you tip it? You travel to the Grand Canyon just to see what it looks like now? You enter the caves or ruins because you're curious about what's inside?

I had a girl decide that she was going to go see the elves because she had always wanted to meet elves and see what elves were like. Were she in Middle Earth, she'd have gone to Lothlorien or Mirkwood just to meet the elves and see what they were like--she didn't need a theme or a challenge to get her there, as it was pure discovery that drove her that direction.

I create worlds that people like to explore for the sheer strangeness of them, for the experience of being in a world that is so unlike the real world that it is worth taking the time just to look, to be a tourist or sightseer in an alien landscape in the imagination.

It has nothing to do with detailed rules or crunchy bits. I could run simulationism entirely freeform, if you like, as long as I've got a clear image in my mind of what it is that you're likely to discover, and you take the time to move through it and ask good questions. Rules are more necessary for gamist play, in my experience, where some measure of challenge is needed to create that feeling of overcoming.

Simulationist play is right there--it's the scientist discovering what happens if you do this, the tourist seeing the world no one else has seen, the stranger in a strange land. There might be theme and there might be challenge, but these are not relevant to the experience--they're peripheral, the things that happen as we're exploring. We don't particularly want them, or avoid them. They're data points, information about the world, things we learned. We discover what it takes to defeat a dragon not because we want to be able to say we beat a dragon, but because it's interesting to know what it takes to do that. We fall in love not because we have some desire to create a theme about unrequited love but because love is one of the things that happen in this world and it's interesting to know what that's like here. We're involved in an experiment, and exploration, a discovery. That's why we're here. That's simulationism.

Now, I also play gamist and narrativist, and I have been known to move from one to another in game; I don't always (or perhaps even often) play this way. But I know it; it can be a fascinating way to play, like reading or watching travelogues but of places that exist only in the mind; like reading science texts but of the physics of other worlds.

Verisimilitude is not simulationism. Verisimilitude--the idea that the world has an internal consistency on which the players and characters can rely--is an essential component of most play, and is not more essential to simulationism than to the others. That is, you can as easily explore an unreal world in which consistency is absent for the interest such a dimension offers as you can find challenge or theme in such a world. It's not a matter of how much sim do you want in your nar or gam; it's a matter of whether you really want sim, or whether you really want nar or gam instead.

I hope this helps someone.

--M. J. Young
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AnyaTheBlue
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« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2003, 08:12:32 PM »

M.,

As one of the 'here's what Sim is to me!' posters from that previous thread, I'm sorry for muddying the waters.  Here's an attempt at a more focussed statement.

Quote
There is something almost clinical about simulationist play. Simulationism is in a sense about modelling a reality to see what happens.


Quote

It has been programmed to optimize whatever side or sides it is playing for a winning outcome, but it's still not playing gamist--it is playing simulationist, asking what would happen if every participant played as well as he could, and which choices actually are "as well as he could".


Quote

It is possible that simulationist play can inadvertently result in challenge or in theme; the point is, the player doesn't care. He's not there for the challenge or the theme, and if that emerges, fine, and if it doesn't, fine.


Hm.

I agree with the third point, disagree with the second point, and am waffling on the first.

My particular problem with the Wargames example is that I think the computer was playing Gamist the whole time.  It's just that when it played gamist against itself, it realized that there was a No Win Scenario, and it basically worked out for itself a version of the Prisoner's Dilemma.  I don't see any Sim at work.  Or, rather, I see the computer AI as being Gamist, and the Gamism arena was the Thermonuclear War Simulation system.  So there was Sim involved, but it was subservient to the Gam priority.

My current Apprehension of the GNS Cosmic All leads me to think that Sim play is an outgrowth of a love of some element or elements of the imagined world that are not involved with anybody being Challenged and don't necessarily result in Narrative Consequence.  They are elements added to the game or the game world purely because the Sim-oriented player or GM likes them and likes to think about the fiddly little details of whatever this thing is.

This is not the same as sheer curiosity about the in-game consequences of tipping a rock over to see what happens.  I think there is a cognitive disconnect between the term 'Explore' and the actual in-game activity taking place in heavy Sim play.  It's not that what Ron or others have described as Exploring isn't happening, it's that people who don't really do much Sim gaming, or aren't aware of it, get side-tracked by some of the connotations of the word Explore that I don't think map very well onto the play-styles I see most often in the play I identify as Sim.  That's probably a whole 'nother thread, though.

I see heavy Sim play most in grognard Traveller players.  They desperately care about vehicle design sequences.  They sometimes spend more time Simulating starship engineers than actually face-to-face gaming.  Worldbuilding in most games can fall into this category, too (although there is, at least for me, a question of boundary -- does 'prep time' count as Gaming?).

It also seems to be common in historical wargamers.  Sure, they're playing with some gamist priorities, but the historical accuracy of the units effectiveness and the terrain effects and communications and line of sight trump straight gamism.  It has to be an accurate Sim before they can really throw themselves into the gamist bits.

A related phenomenon, I think, is gamers who are playing with a beloved licensed property.  The cry of "but that's not how it works in the show" is, for me, a big cry for a player desiring a more accurate Sim before they're willing to Step On Up, indulge in Story Now, or even do much Exploring.
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Dana Johnson
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jdagna
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« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2003, 08:52:12 PM »

I don't know about the Wargames example, but the rest of it jives with how I've always seen Sim and most of my motives in playing.

A while back, we had a thread called http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=6846&start=0&postdays=0&postorder=asc&highlight=">Revised does S really exist. Or It's everywhere!.  I gave a response that seemed to clarify the issue for some of the people involved, and which fits MJ's analysis very well:

Quote
When I sit down to role-play, my primary source of excitement is in being able to take on the role of another person.  I want to find out how he thinks, what his life is like, and what life is like in general for someone in a fantasy or sci-fi world.  I want to get outside of my head and get to know an imaginary person in a way that makes him real.
 
 Do I want some challenge in that?  Yeah - after all, I don't want to role-play a blacksmith making his hundredth horseshoe.  But I'm not going to seek out challenge for itself - I'm much more committed to having this imaginary person act true to himself. I do like to have a character who shapes major events in his world, but not for the challenge.  It's only through changing things that you can really experiment with what makes them work.
 
 I don't even think about the implications of moral choices or themes.  When a choice comes up, I consider it from character's sense of morality and decide as he would.  I can't even envision why or how I would promote a theme in what he does.  Sometimes I can look back over play and pull a theme out of it, but it's purely a retroactive process.
 
 But at the end of the day, I'm happy just to learn about this person and his world, and that's my priority.


[/quote]
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Justin Dagna
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John Kim
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« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2003, 10:37:40 PM »

Justin, your quote pretty much matches my understanding of RGFA simulationism.  However, as I understand it, under GNS it isn't important whether you consciously think about your play as just being your character.  What matters is patterns in the result of your play.  

Quote from: AnyaTheBlue
 My current Apprehension of the GNS Cosmic All leads me to think that Sim play is an outgrowth of a love of some element or elements of the imagined world that are not involved with anybody being Challenged and don't necessarily result in Narrative Consequence.  They are elements added to the game or the game world purely because the Sim-oriented player or GM likes them and likes to think about the fiddly little details of whatever this thing is.  

I would take issue with this.  As I see it, what constitutes "Narrative Consequence" is purely a matter of personal interest.  The same things which bore one person might intrigue another, and each will formulate different notions of what the story was.  Do the poems in Tolkien have Narrative Consequence?  What about the long non-fictional chapters on whaling life in Melville?  The technical explanations in The Dragon's Egg?  For GNS, Narrativism at least specifies Egrian Premise, which puts it in terms of a specific person's interest (Egri).  

I suspect that there are multiple disagreements which underlie most Nar/Sim arguments.  The two most common issues I see are:
1) Different levels of interest in detail
2) Self-conscious consideration in literary terms (i.e. theme) versus purely in-character approach

Quote from: AnyaTheBlue
  I see heavy Sim play most in grognard Traveller players.  They desperately care about vehicle design sequences.  They sometimes spend more time Simulating starship engineers than actually face-to-face gaming.  Worldbuilding in most games can fall into this category, too (although there is, at least for me, a question of boundary -- does 'prep time' count as Gaming?).

I would say that prep time certainly counts as gaming -- though it is a different type of gaming from action resolution in face-to-face play.  People differ on what is proper behavior for during-session versus "offline".  

I have a soft spot for Traveller play since in junior high school, it was formative for my interest in astronomy and physics.  (I went on to get a Physics PhD and do cosmic ray research.)  It was an excellent for learning basic mechanics and astronomy, and even drove interest in particle physics with innovative ideas like the meson gun.  I haven't played a campaign since then, but I still remember it fondly.  

I think this all comes down to what level of detail you are interested in.  Some players will roll their eyes if you describe your character's hair color and clothing.  To them, it isn't interesting and they don't fit it into their understanding of the narrative.  Others will find interest and relevance in it.
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- John
pete_darby
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« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2003, 01:48:28 AM »

What is this, international everyone get nostalgic about Traveller Sim Day?

And for Dana's points about out of game activities such as world design and vehicle design feeding the sim hunger... I get this knee jerk that with much vehicle design I've seen, Gamist advantage is at least as important as simulation, abusing the mechanics for character gain. And world design can be as Nar or Gam as sim, depending on the priorities of the deisgner (is this town a fascinating, living, breathing representation of societies in this world, a heap of moral dillemas, or a source of equipment and political challenges?)

And what about character design? In Gurps or hero, it can be as involved as  vehicle design (ahh... no, nothing's as involved as Gurps vehicle design). Yet, despire the biases in the systems, individual characters can be built with any of GNS prioritised. So why do we (and I include myself) have an initial reaction that character creation is GNS depending on the player, but vehicle creation tends to be Sim regardless?

And how many Nar vehicle designs are there (oh, Octane, right...)
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Pete Darby
Lxndr
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« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2003, 06:04:43 AM »

On another thread that was diverted over here:
Quote from: AnyaTheBlue
First, I think Valamir is right, that Simulation is Exploration + Something Else.  I think the 'Something Else' is something I'd call 'Simulation', though, and if I do that, how do I seperate 'Simulation' from Simulation?


Perhaps, instead of "invention" or "simulation", it could be called "Discovery"?  Discovery of what's going to happen next, discovery of what's around the corner, discovery of what's over the horizon.  Isn't that the point of Sim-prioritized play?  Peeling away the onion?
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Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2003, 06:19:12 AM »

Sigh ...

First of all, let's get clear that people who are just now discovering the terms of GNS tend to use slightly-disparaging terms toward modes of play they've found dissatisfying in the past. Dana, when you describe the processes of Simulationist play as "being distracted by the fiddly bits," can you see that your phrasing is biased? A few more such phrases on more than one person's part, and we're setting ourselves up for an aesthetic backlash that sabotages any actual point being discussed.

Second, remember: Exploration is, in and of itself, not role-playing. You can replace the term with "delighted imagination" in your head, if you like. No one is having a character do anything yet. No one is telling anyone else what their character is doing or seeing yet. Think of Exploration, in isolation, as trembling on the threshold of play.

Now play. Exploration now becomes communicative. It does so only in the context of some creative agenda.

1. Gamist play - Step On Up, with reference to what's being Explored.

2. Narrativist play - Story Now, with reference to what's being Explored.

3. Simulationist play - Dream what's being Explored.

In the past, someone once referred to Simulationist play as "Exploration squared." That works for me, because I interpret the "squared" as meaning: brought into action through people talking to one another, and recursively reinforced by everyone being further inspired to do it some more.

Best,
Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2003, 07:15:29 AM »

Quote
Second, remember: Exploration is, in and of itself, not role-playing. You can replace the term with "delighted imagination" in your head, if you like. No one is having a character do anything yet. No one is telling anyone else what their character is doing or seeing yet. Think of Exploration, in isolation, as trembling on the threshold of play.


I think this is actually the part that there was some disagreement on in the Invention thread.  I'm not sure that Exploration =/ roleplaying is true.  In fact, I think alot of the very passive "lets go around and see the world" play that has been categorized as Simulation in the past really is just Exploration that never HAD any additional creative agenda attached to it.  They really are just day dreaming, only with a group.  But I think it would still be recognized as role play.  That frees up Simulationism to actually get its own real live legimate creative agenda that's more than simply defined as "the absence of the other two".
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AnyaTheBlue
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« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2003, 07:22:16 AM »

Ron,

Hang on, don't sigh at me just yet!

Quote from: Ron Edwards
when you describe the processes of Simulationist play as "being distracted by the fiddly bits," can you see that your phrasing is biased?


Of course I can.  But if you'll check above, I think you'll see I didn't use the term 'distracted' (I may have in another thread, but I don't think so).  I may have implied it, but if so that was accidental.  I didn't intend to be dismissive.

I think a lot of my own play is in fact Sim.  Regardless, I definitely am one of the Traveller Grognards I was talking about up above.  I'm not as fiddly as some people, but I certainly have my share of High Guard designs laying around.  I like fiddly!

I don't mean to derail the current topic.  I'll just say now that I have in fact found all modes of gaming fun and enjoyable (Gam/Sim/Nar), although I don't pursue them in equal amounts for myself.  But I'm very conscious that the balance of them is something variable and personal, and I try to respect other people's balance.

I've been trying to hunt for where I fall in the GNS spectrum for purely descriptive reasons (I see GNS as a descriptive, rather than proscriptive, theory), and I think I'm an Illusionist player, for the most part.  Success in that arena (for me) involves being able to identify and provide an appropriate GNS mix to a group of players such that they are distracted and having enough fun that they don't notice the Woman Behind The Curtain who is effectively cushioning them from certain kinds and classes of consequence.

Anyway, I don't intend to disparage any particular balance of GNS or play style.  If you're having fun, you're doing it right, and I think ultimately that's the most important thing.  I apologize if I've accidentally said or implied that one mode of play was better than another, because I most definitely didn't mean it.

(To put it another way, no play style that a person enjoys is wrong, better, or worse than another.  Trouble only shows up when two players have styles that interfere with each other and causes their (and/or the group's) enjoyment of the game to drop "Too Far", where "Too Far" is fairly subjective from person to person and group to group.)
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Dana Johnson
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: September 25, 2003, 08:26:02 AM »

Hi there,

Ralph, you wrote,

Quote
I'm not sure that Exploration =/ roleplaying is true. In fact, I think alot of the very passive "lets go around and see the world" play that has been categorized as Simulation in the past really is just Exploration that never HAD any additional creative agenda attached to it. They really are just day dreaming, only with a group. But I think it would still be recognized as role play.


There's the miscommunication. As soon as you add the "only with group" phrase, in my view, then you have actual play happening. As soon as you have actual play happening, then the Exploration becomes, itself, a creative agenda, and the name for that is Simulationism.

I swear, the more I try, the worse it gets. Now people are trying to separate "creative agenda" from GNS, which is absurd - the new term is defined as the generalized category of which G, N, and S are three types.

Best,
Ron

P.S. Hey Dana, you're cool. The fact that it's clear to me that you are not engaging in such judgments means that your posts are good examples for people to learn from, in terms of phrasing.
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2003, 09:29:31 AM »

Quote from: Lxndr
Perhaps, instead of "invention" or "simulation", it could be called "Discovery"?  Discovery of what's going to happen next, discovery of what's around the corner, discovery of what's over the horizon.  Isn't that the point of Sim-prioritized play?  Peeling away the onion?


I doubt it would surprise anyone who's read the other thread that I'm not wholy happy with "discovery" as a term.  Someone is making this stuff up - now that can be entirely done in prep - either by the group or a game designer - or it can be done in whole or in part during play.  Only in the former case can it be really termed discovery.

I think if we define simulationism as the enjoyment of the shared imaginative space for it's own sake then simulationism is fine as a term.  This enjoyment can be happening using actor stance - a kind of subjective simulationism - or at an author/director stance level - a kind of objective simulationism.  I definitely fall into the latter camp, a lot of people seem to fall into the former.

I suppose one could even use pawn stance - if I do this with my guy, what will happen? - without any particular attachment to the character.  Kind of a scientic observation kind of a kick.

And I think this constitutes the 'something more' - the additional focus.
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Ian Charvill
AnyaTheBlue
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« Reply #11 on: September 25, 2003, 09:56:15 AM »

Quote from: Ian Charvill
I think if we define simulationism as the enjoyment of the shared imaginative space for it's own sake then simulationism is fine as a term.  This enjoyment can be happening using actor stance - a kind of subjective simulationism - or at an author/director stance level - a kind of objective simulationism.  I definitely fall into the latter camp, a lot of people seem to fall into the former.

I suppose one could even use pawn stance - if I do this with my guy, what will happen? - without any particular attachment to the character.  Kind of a scientic observation kind of a kick.


Hm.

I agree about "discovery" vs. "exploration" -- I think they both have the same connotative issues in describing what I'm personally thinking about.  They both work, but they can mislead because they have connotations beyond my conception of the thing we're all talking around, and those connotations mislead people away from the actual nature of the thing we're trying to talk about.


Hm.

I also reject the 'scientific observation' limitation on Sim play -- I think that it does happen like that sometimes, but I don't think it's a defining characterization.

I would contend that people in Heavy Sim games know the outcome most of the time.  That's why I'm not enamored of either 'Explore' or 'Discover' as terms for whatever this is.  They have a certain conception of how things in the game work, and they care a lot about them actually happening in that way.  That's not the same as saying they have to happen that way, but as I see it there's some constraint on how things work (what is constrained, and how it is constrained, varies a lot) -- not any old outcome will do, only certain outcomes happen when there are certain inputs, for some (largely arbitrary) set of inputs and outcomes.

Maybe 'Emulation' would work as a good word here?  Could we say that Simulation is "Exploration + Emulation"?  Or maybe "Exploration + Faithful Emulation"?

Edit:
Quote from: Ron
P.S. Hey Dana, you're cool

Keen!  Thanks, Ron!
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Dana Johnson
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: September 25, 2003, 10:00:42 AM »

Hi Dana,

I think you might be mis-reading Ian ... he's offering that "scientific simulation" as a possible application within Sim play, not as a defining feature.

Ian, I think you're on it. You're stating that any Stance can be taken during Simulationist play, which is consistent with my (often ignored) point that GNS mode does not dictate which Stances may be employed.

More generally, what exactly is the purpose of this hunt for some new term? A new term for what, exactly? Note that in my Simulationism essay, I concede that "Emulation" would probably be the best term if there were any reason to have a new one, for [Exploration extended to creative agenda].

Best,
Ron
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AnyaTheBlue
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« Reply #13 on: September 25, 2003, 10:19:51 AM »

Ron (and Ian)

Yeah, you're right -- Sorry Ian.  I agree that it can work that way, but that it doesn't have to.

As for the definition hunting, I personally have a (minor) quibble with Exploration and Simulation for two reasons.  First, because I think the terms are getting overloaded, and second, because I think Exploration specifically has certain connotations for most people that don't map well onto what I think we're all talking about when we discuss Exploration in the GNS/Forge Terminology sense.

This is mostly just a semantic argument on my part, though, not a big difference of opinion.  It's a semantic quibble hoping to make the descriptive  terms clearer.

Shrug.

To be (pedantically) clear:

I'm going to use X for Exploration, and Y for part of Simulation

 I see a tree:

Code:

 __X___
          |_X + Step On Up == Gamism
          |_X + Story Now == Narrativism
          |_X + Y == Simulationism


For X, I would like a term that describes doing something socially -- A social interaction, METAGAME term, I think.  I almost want to suggest "Hanging Out", but I don't think it's general enough -- it's what *I* do at that level, but I definitely don't think my experience in gaming is representative.

For Y, I would suggest (or reaffirm -- Dang, have to go reread Ron's essays! =) Emulation.

Does that make sense to anybody other than me?

The X state, for me, is the basic social activity that's at the underlying root of all table-top, face-to-face, roleplaying.  Exploration isn't a wrong term for it, but I think the word exploration has a lot of additional connotations that I think are misleading in this particular context.

Actually, I'm not sure the tree structure is quite right, either, because I think solo play and prep time are part of Role Playing Games, too, and they don't have X much or at all, I don't think.  So I think there's a Z involved somewhere, too, but I really don't have a good grasp of what Z is, and it's definitely beyond the scope of this thread.

Like I said before, this is a purely semantic quibble, not any sort of disagreement with the underlying ideas or structures.

(Edit:  Actually, one slight addition -- While I can see Simulation as being Exploration-Squared, I definitely think there's a difference in kind as well as quantity between what I think of as Simulation and what I think of as X.  So X^2 doesn't map well onto what I think of as "X + Y"/"X + Emulation"  I see X & Y/Emulation as being distinct things.  I may not be right, though.)
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Dana Johnson
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« Reply #14 on: September 25, 2003, 10:39:47 AM »

Hi Dana,

The term you're looking for is Social Contract, and it actually encompasses everything we're discussing - given that we're talking about role-playing, and not "thinking about role-playing."

Social Contract [Exploration [G, N, or S]]

Where the brackets surrounding GNS are called the "creative agenda."

Social Contract: "let's create together"
Exploration: "let's create this"
creative agenda: "this" in action

But it's not a linear progression like the above little bit might suggest. Exploration is a *type and piece of* Social Contract. Creative agenda categories (GNS) are *applications* of Exploration.

Best,
Ron
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