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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 56 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Narrativism for the Soul  (Read 7587 times)
Paganini
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« on: November 20, 2003, 11:29:40 AM »

So, all these recent threads have really been great, but they're very deep, and awfully technical. Last night I was thinking about all this, and a new way of communicating Narrativism ocurred to me. So, this thread is the emotional counterpart to all the logical discussion that's been going on. Those threads were about what Narrativism *is.* This thread is about what Narrativism *means.*

Ron, I'm especially interested in what you think of this, because the presentation is somewhat different from what we normally see here.

Narrativism is about setting up a specific kind of choice for the characters to face. Call them urgent choices. For one reason or another, an urgent choice can't just be waved away or ignored. Because of the situation or the character or *something* in the context of the shared reality, the choice must be resolved one way or another. It won't just go away. The characters can't just laugh it off.

*This* is what addressing premise is really about! To imagine situation in such a way that the urgent choice is presented. To imagine character in such a way that the decision must be made.

It's a given that the urgent choice must be resolved - this is definitional. But, the actual in-game decision that the character makes is not the focus. The players will be interested in the meta-level meaning no matter what.  The important is the urgent choice itself. As long as Exploring [1] urgent choices is the point of play, the game is Narrativism.

[1] Remember, Exploration = "creation via shared imagination."

Doesn't matter when this happens, either. Premise can be addressed during any stage of the game.

Now a little theory snippet... The obvious thing here is that urgent choices can crop up more or less frequently during all play. The mere existence of an urgent choice isn't really enough to say that play is Narrativist, because the urgent choice might just be an accidental by-product of something else.

Like I said before, it's Narrativism when the urgent choice is the *point.* How can we, as observers, distinguish between the accidental and the intentional? By observing an instance of play, as outlined in my other post. When a player sets up the urgent choice *at the expense* of some other play mode, then we can recognize a Narrativist decision.

We might have to wait a long time before we find one of these identifiable prioritizations - that's why the length of "instance of play" is vague. But we only have to find *one* such prioritization to identify Narrtivism. (And of course, the same can be said of Simulationism and Gamism.) And that's why hybrid play and drifting works - different modes of play can be recognizeably prioritized during the *same game.*
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Valamir
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« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2003, 11:38:10 AM »

I think that sounds pretty much right, but I'd a couple of addendums.

1) The choice must be equally viable in either direction.  i.e. it can't be a "non choice"

2) The choice has to be something meaningful, not just urgent.  Having 5 seconds to choose to attack the guy with the bow vs attack the guy with the sword is probably not meaningful.  Although it could be if one is addressing themes of the "practical expedience" of the bow vs. the "traditional notions of honor" of a man to man fight.

So the choice has to be urgent (as in unavoidable).  It has to carry thematic oomph.  And EITHER choice has to say something.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2003, 11:49:18 AM »

Hi there,

By the most amazing coincidence, I have just drafted that portion of the Narrativism essay which says, "Everyone seems to have to work how to say this out for himself or herself."

[By "everyone," I usually mean a  person who's been involved in role-playing for a long time. Other people get it bang-on in seconds, or rather, already have it without need for clarification. That's another issue.]

I get these emails all the time. "Ron! I figured out Narrativism! It's [insert material very much like Nathan's above, but with examples and phrasing that just work for that person]! Is that it?"

Right, I say. You got it. And I think, yet again, didn't I say this about a zillion times? By now, though, I know that I did say it a zillion times, but also that that's not the point. The point is that this person said it, this time.

So, Nathan, "Right. You got it." Ralph's addendum is great too.

Best,
Ron
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Paganini
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« Reply #3 on: November 20, 2003, 12:32:59 PM »

Hehe Ron, I know I got it, I got it like 18 months ago or something. It just came to me last night that expressing it in terms of "here's what we actually do to get Narrativism" might be more meaningful to some people than explaining it in terms of literary / Exploratory constructs.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: November 20, 2003, 12:55:40 PM »

Hi Nathan,

Excellent. Now let's see how it works.

My proves-point-to-self addendum to your post is, I prefer "emotionally grabby" rather than "urgent."

See? Everyone needs his own words. That's what I'd like visitors to the thread to try to do.

Best,
Ron
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Paganini
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« Reply #5 on: November 20, 2003, 01:29:47 PM »

Hehehe, emotionally grabby, I like that.

Now for the secret behind the scenes origin of this thread... other night in #indierpgs we were talking about stuff, and all the recent Narrativism threads came up. Obvious paraphrasing follows. :)

Lxndr (I think it was, mighta been Mr. Moth) said he'd never really "got" Narrativism, because of your insistence that "moral and ethical" be part of the definition of "premise."

I said it wasn't that big of a deal, that "premise" was just a fancy way of breaking down conflict.

He didn't buy that, because he said not all conflicts are moral or ethical in nature.

I said sure they are, because conflicts are about the choices people make and why they make them. If nobody cares about it, there's nothing to fight over. Even standard "man vs. nature" types work this way, because nature has to be personified in some way before the real humans will care about it.

So that got me thinking, the real Narrativist zinger for me is that the thematic decision points exist - it's not so much actually making the decisions as it is creating the choices. Maybe if I explained it in those terms it might help make things clearer. And there you have it. :)
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2003, 05:03:51 AM »

Quote
It's a given that the urgent choice must be resolved - this is definitional. But, the actual in-game decision that the character makes is not the focus. The players will be interested in the meta-level meaning no matter what. The important is the urgent choice itself. As long as Exploring [1] urgent choices is the point of play, the game is Narrativism.


Here I draw a blank - but I may just not be getting your phrasing.  I presume you're saying the choice must be urgent for the players but not necessarily for the character (I think that when you get congruence between urgent for the characters and urgent for the players, this is exactly the point where sim and narrativism get awfully hard to tell apart).
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Ian Charvill
John Burdick
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« Reply #7 on: November 21, 2003, 07:05:46 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

See? Everyone needs his own words. That's what I'd like visitors to the thread to try to do.



For me, it wasn't restating in my own words. It clicked when I watched tv shows that were analagous to Nar and contrasted them with shows that were analagous to Sim or Gam.

During the period I was reading here along with Sorcerer andSorcerer's Soul, I was watching a lot of Dead Like Me, Scrapped Princess (not yet released in America), and Witch Hunter Robin.

Witch Hunter Robin is about a witch who hunts witches. The moral contradiction is the focus of the series.

Scrapped Princess is about a girl being predicted at birth to be the poison that will destroy the world. Her father the king orders her killed. The knight who throws her off a cliff resigns his commision in shame. The family that saves doesn't have any basis to disbelieve the prediction. By the time she is 15, the parents that adopted her have died protecting her and she is fleeing with her adopted brother and sister.  They protect her from the entire nation because she is their precious little sister; they don't discredit the prophecy in any way. That's the kicker at the beginning ot the show. The show emphasises relationships and personal choices throughout.

Anyway, once I could give examples of fiction that has a Nar-like appeal, and others that have Sim-like or Gam-like appeal, I imagined playing in a game that has a similar feel. I haven't yet verified this imagination with actual play.

The GM I have the most experience with plays in a strongly Sim/Illusionist style.  I tend to play in his games as a MyGuy Survivalist. I was a little frustrated with his games until I read about Illusionism and started playing  more in a Participationist manner. I've had fun since then.

John
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: November 21, 2003, 07:13:20 AM »

Hi John,

Welcome!

See, to me, that is stating it in your own words - finding your own examples is part of that.

C'mon, someone else do it. This is very valuable.

Best,
Ron
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Paganini
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« Reply #9 on: November 21, 2003, 08:05:46 AM »

Quote from: Ian Charvill
Quote
It's a given that the urgent choice must be resolved - this is definitional. But, the actual in-game decision that the character makes is not the focus. The players will be interested in the meta-level meaning no matter what. The important is the urgent choice itself. As long as Exploring [1] urgent choices is the point of play, the game is Narrativism.


Here I draw a blank - but I may just not be getting your phrasing.  I presume you're saying the choice must be urgent for the players but not necessarily for the character (I think that when you get congruence between urgent for the characters and urgent for the players, this is exactly the point where sim and narrativism get awfully hard to tell apart).


Ian, I'm saying that the important thing is the conflict, not the resolution. By nature, these conflicts are the sort that the character must resolve... he can't just laugh them off, or ignore them. So, there will be resolution, no matter what. But the resolution is not the point. The conflict is the point. The important thing is that the character has to choose between killing the kids, or letting the plague spread. It doesn't matter *which* he chooses, either way can be equally interesting from the player's point of view. It's the fact that the choice exists in the first place, and that the character must resolve it, that's necessary for Narrativism.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: November 21, 2003, 08:34:52 AM »

Hi Ian,

I suggest trying it in your own words. Really, it is the only way.

Best,
Ron
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #11 on: November 21, 2003, 10:41:35 AM »

Narrativism seems to me about being jazzed that you get to be the one who make the moral decisions, who gets to engage with the moral questions.  In concrete terms, this seems to require heavy player authorship - either by author stance play or by front-loading the character with sufficient potential for moral issues to arise.

My understanding of narrativism is haunted by a sense of missing part of the puzzle.  My core understanding is that the people at the table will be engaging with the moral elements of imagined play as the people at the table.  But then things blur when I think about certain types of play that I feel in my bones are simulationist.

For me it doesn't matter how laden with theme and moral issues a simulationist game is, you only break into narrativism when what you feel as a person takes precedence over the established continuities of the imagined space (what my character would feel, what would be right for the genre).
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Ian Charvill
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: November 21, 2003, 11:59:36 AM »

Hi Ian,

Slam-dunk, as I see it. I guess I don't see the hollow or empty part at all, especially given your final paragraph.

If your "missing piece" is referring to Simulationist play that includes Theme, then yeah, there's tons of that available.

Best,
Ron
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Calithena
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« Reply #13 on: November 21, 2003, 01:15:59 PM »

The curious, slippery thing about all this is in the nuances.

I agree with every word in Paganini's very first post on this thread - both as a characterization of Narrativism and as a characterization of what I am usually going for in GMing.

And yet I still draw a blank with the 'moral/ethical' talk. Partly this is terminological, I suspect - when I read things Ron says about Vance he apparently sees definitions of Humanity present, Premise, and all this stuff, whereas I view Vance as a more or less amoral writer, and purposefully so. (And this is part of why I love his work so much.) And yet substantively I suspect that disagreements between Ron and I about what Vance was actually trying to communicate in his fiction would be minimal - but he would use the word 'moral' or 'ethical' to talk about those kinds of conflicts, and I wouldn't.

This might have something to do with my inclination towards moral realism. On the other hand, I suspect that Martin Luther was a moral realist as well, and he had the following to say: that no man was an atheist, and that if you wanted to know what god a man worshipped you had simply to look at how he acted and what he valued in life. This tradition of judging a person's values as always inherently ethical goes back to Socrates, and come to think of it, I find this identity persuasive on a number of levels. So I will now cede the point, retract the rest of the last two paragraphs, and leave these electrons floating around the Forge in case others are struggling with similar errors. In that sense, at least, Narrativist play must always address moral or ethical issues.
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ejh
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« Reply #14 on: November 21, 2003, 05:12:55 PM »

Calithena, forgive me for adding to the thread when you've confessed yourself satisfied, but a possible helpful paraphrase popped into my head when I read your message, and the thread is about helpful paraphrases...

perhaps "moral/ethical" here can be paraphrased as "dealing with what Really Matters"?

I can see Vance as amoral in a sense (his *characters* are, indeed, gleefully amoral, and the narrator certainly never passes judgement on anything), but he does indeed write about Big Questions about what Really Matters, and his characters are always making decisions about those things (perhaps making decisions all that much more freely because they don't imagine themselves to be bound by any scruples).

Like, does it Really Matter if you are living among wretches in a mud hut if you imagine yourself (because of magic Cusps) to be living among princelings in a paradise?  (That was the first Vancian theme that came to mind...)  That sort of thing.
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