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Author Topic: "Story" thoughts  (Read 7046 times)
Gordon C. Landis
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« on: May 10, 2001, 01:19:00 PM »

Great stuff here, everyone.  I'm never sure I actually understand G/N/S, nor if it is even really a "good" analysis of RPGs in general, but it (and the discussions on GO, here, even RPG.net on occasion) represent some serious thinking about the nature of RPGs and what makes 'em fun.  And I'm all in favor of that - as I've grown older, I just don't have the patience/time/endurance to spend, oh, 12+ hours on a Saturday to get maybe 3-4 hrs of enjoyment out of it.  And it seems to me that if I want to focus my enjoyment of RPGs, that means I need to understand what about 'em is really important - to me, to others I play with, and in whatever "underlying principles" might reside in the design/nature of the game.

Anyway, reading the threads here got me to thinkin' - I'm not sure how (or if) this relates to G/N/S, but . . . let me start with something Ron said, and see if I can build from there:

>I also think that you've stated one of the reasons why some prominent GO
>contributors insist that they are Narrativist (usually in addition to
>Simulationist) - they mistake DELIVERING a story to their players for
>CREATING a story WITH their players.

I've always had difficulty with the (mis?)intrepretation of Narativist=story-focused and others=NOT story-focused, because I can see even the most, say, Simulationist (by conventional evaluation) game as story-focused.

I'm thinking WAY back, to my junior high school wargaming days, before we ordered the D&D box out of the back of S&T or The General or whatever it was.  And for me (*not* all wargame players I knew then or have known since would agree), the BEST thing about wargames was when there was a cool story that "happened" while playing.  Like, the one and only unit that could possibly stop the infantry assault happened to be the one unit you hadn't done anything with that turn.  I thought this was so cool I'd actually work on making such things happen, even if it wasn't neccessarily the best game strategy - always use the same group of combat engineers in an assault, so that they got "veteran" status and I could call 'em the "Fightin' 52nd" or whatever, and now they're more likely to "happen" into a good story situation (desperate assualt on the enemy fortification - SUCCESFUL assualt preferred, both in story and gamist terms here :smile: - though if you fail, you might end up with a "Charge of the Light Brigade" story, which was cool too).  Call that an Author stance, but tightly restricted, and we LIKED it that way . . . but I wander.

In addition to explaining why I got hooked on D&D and play far more RPGs than wargames in the years since, I think this might relate to the relationship between simulation/rules and story that Ron alludes to.  Somehow, it was IMPORTANT that the unit was just the same as any other at the start - it got no special treatment, except maybe the (entirely within the rules) decisions I made regarding it.  The goal is the story, but if you get there without going through (in this case) a rigorous simulation, the story doesn't feel as . . authentic? good? right?

How about this - it's not so much about "delivering" vs. "creating" as it is a matter of where the story comes from.  We've got a threefold set here (and I think this is a "natural trio", not stuffing something into threes 'cause it's a convention):  the players, the GM, and "the game" (rules/design/environment/setting . . . interesting issues there, but to avoid getting side-tracked, I'll stick with "the game").  The question is - what do you trust to determine the story?  Or perhaps, which do you trust to what degrees, as in an RPG there will always be SOME input from all three.  At least, all that exist - in "pure" freeform (does such a thing exist?), you have no game (becuase you totally distrust rules?).  If you distrust the GM (perhaps on the power corrupts principle), you might eliminate that element.  I can't see a way to eliminate the player(s) - wait, I take that back.  You can eliminate the player AS A FACTOR IN STORY DETERMINATION - I've played with far too many GM's who seem to have that as a "goal" . . .

Well . . . that's it.  Back to work for me - hope there's something useful in here.

Gordon C. Landis

P.S.: There is a famous remark by the French Marshall in the Crimea, Pierre Bosquet, on the Charge of the Light Brigade: "It is magnificent but it is not war".   I suppose someone might say of my story-obsession "outside" of Narrativisim "It is magnificent but it is not Gamist/Simulationist."  But like I said, I'm not SURE the G/N/S model is a "good" one - I'm more than willing to try it out, though.  So far, it is a useful, if not ideal, tool.
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2001, 11:40:00 PM »

(replying to my own msg - NOT off to a good start here . . . )

In visting RPG.net et al tonight, I noticed there's a big stink over what Mr. Gygax said about RPG's and "story".

My post wasn't meant to have anything to do with that.  Heck, I'm looking forward to tring out some story-focused mechanics with Story Engine, I'm gonna give Sorceror a whirl even though modern/occult ain't my thing, and if I could ever get the Glorantha folks 'round here to give up their "homebrew/playtest Runequest 4", I'd give Hero Wars a whirl.

I guess my post could be summarized as "what does it really mean to be story-focused, anyway?".

Just felt the need to clarify that before heading to bed . . .
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james_west
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« Reply #2 on: May 11, 2001, 07:30:00 AM »

Your discussion of how story seems to be the motivator for most playing styles made me realize why people probably object to the G/N/S system, and caused me to propose a set of friendlier definitions (which seemed distinct enough from your topic that I made it a new thread).
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2001, 09:19:00 AM »

Hi Gordon & James,

This is a crucial thread. I've held forth on this issue at GO many times, but that stuff is so buried now, that I ought to make my points here.

PART ONE
A story consists of well-defined parts called Conflict and Resolution. The audience becomes involved with the Conflict via a protagonist or two; some call this "identification" because an audience member might relate or recognize himself within the protagonist, and another way to look at it is Premise, meaning that the problem itself is recognized.

The Resolution is equally integral - given an emotional commitment to the Conflict, the Resolution prompts a further emotional response - Awwww, shit!, Yaaay!, , cooool - or any other. A stated version of this response, especially if it carries instructive or view-changing weight, is called the Theme. (Note this is different from what some learn in high school, that themes are "hidden" in the stories; nothing could be more wrong.)

Pacing, presentation, development, depth, and many other structural components are all up for grabs - people are very clever li'l primates and can usually make a story out given very little to work with

Topics and media, obviously, are also totally up for grabs.

(I like Deconstruction in many ways. However, full-blown Deconstructionists, particularly of the Frankfurt school, will be shot on sight.)

PART TWO
No one could possibly dispute that components of story are integral to role-playing, or to wargaming, CCGing, video games, and many other activities once called "adventure gaming."

That does not mean that everyone performs these activities in order to CREATE stories. This "author" approach is only one way to enjoy adventure gaming, and as I said elsewhere, I think it's by no means the most common way. And I certainly do not think it's some kind of "best" way, except as one might decide on a personal level.

Therefore "story-oriented" is a terribly useless term. All role-playing is SORT OF story-oriented - there are characters, there are conflicts, there are causal events that are determined by game-action activities.

Narrativism, as I've defined it, is about MAKING stories on the spot, meaning that, to satisfy the definition, authorial power MUST be the driving, causal element of the role-playing experience.

At first glance, Drama resolution methods (based on assertion rather than flat scores or randomized methods) would seem well-suited for Narrativist purposes. The entire point of the "System" essay is to assert otherwise, that a wide variety of D/F/K methods may be used as differing engines for differing types and constraints and modes of Narrativism (and to the other two goals too).

PART THREE
One of the most pervasive inaccuracies across role-playing culture is that a good story may be built "as you go along" with NO reference, comparison, and judgmental power over possible future outcomes. This is never the case: not in cinema, not in improv theater, not in cops & robbers, not in literature, not in anything.

I'm prepared to debate ferociously on this point - up to and including stream-of-consciousness writing, cut-up writing, and any other modernist brand of narrative creativity. When the "story" content is established in a creative work, at that moment, such methods must be shelved, however useful they may be for generating raw material.

Simulationist role-playing (a fine thing in its own right) relies on exactly this mode of event-determination - A to B to C, both in terms of announcement at the table and in terms of resolution in the game-world. It cannot be relied upon to CREATE quality stories. One has two choices, using such a system - either funnel an essentially pre-written story to the role-playing group (GM to players, or authors to GM to players) for them to simulate IN, or abandon the story priority in favor of the character-experience priority, for its own sake. I think we are now seeing both of these in very developed form, as discussed on other threads.

Narrativist role-playing focuses instead on presenting Premise-based problems, defining and developing Conflict (as defined above), which itself entails defining and developing player-characters into protagonists, and pushing toward Resolution in a fashion that carries that thematic weight (as described above). The GM and players are still role-playing, but their roles relative to one another are rather different, and most importantly, the systems that facilitate this activity are radically different in the very basics of role-playing processes. I won't go into it here, but these processes include things which Gary Gygax, for instance, has never conceived of, such as stance-facilitating mechanics and announcement-to-resolution reversals.

For instance, the A-to-B-to-C foundation of Simulationist resolution is profoundly non-Narrativist, and the B-to-A-to-C foundation of much modern Narrativist resolution is profoundly non-Simulationist. I've written at length on this topic elsewhere.

PART FOUR
So, are people who enjoy (say) Call of Cthulhu "bad" Narrativists? No. Is playing (say) GURPS "bad" because it's not about creating stories? No.

Also, is Narrativism (or any other priority) IMPOSSIBLE to do using a system that's not well-suited for it? No. Can one be Narrativist using GURPS? Yes. Is it a lot more work, and prone to "drift" from that priority? Yes. Can you be Gamist using Hero Wars? Yes. Will it frequently frustrate you in terms of really getting to compete? Yes.

Should one be utterly unconcerned with plausibility when engaged in Narrativism? No - plausibility (not to be confused with Simulation) is a vital part of Conflict and Resolution. If one feels competitive toward one's play partner during a Narrativist play session, is one being "bad"? No - such feelings can engender even more commitment to the developing story.

And so on and on ... I could keep this No, Yes, thing going for a really long time. But I hope the idea is clear - whenever you create UNNECESSARY judgments and distinctions, I'll say "No." Whenever you try to put a "people should ..."
interpretation into the ideas, I'll say "No." Whenever something arrantly stupid and misinformed is ascribed to G/N/S thinking, it is based on a fallacy inserted by the reader - at least, I'll think so until someone provides me with an incontrovertible argument about it.

Whew ... enough fuckin' TALKING about role-playing for the day. I'm going to go play Hero Wars.

Best,
Ron



[ This Message was edited by: Ron Edwards on 2001-05-12 13:23 ]
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joshua neff
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« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2001, 09:49:00 AM »

ron--

great post!

as for the whole "story just happens" argument (i.e., "narrativism is silly, because all rpgs are about story, but w/ rpgs you don't set out to create a story, the story just happens"), i recently posted on rpgnet "waiting for story to happen is like a group of improv actors on stage waiting for a play to happen"...

& i'm a big fan of cut-ups & stream-of-consciousness (both reading & writing)...but when i write stuff like that, i'm not even thinking of it as "i'm trying to create a story" but just "i'm creating a piece"--i agree, story-creation is a different set of techniques (which i'm rediscovering now that i'm getting back into fiction writing after years of just writing poetry)...
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2001, 07:38:00 PM »

Ron,

Thanks for the response - lots of good info there.

I'm going to take some time and digest it and some of the other posts active right now . . . and then probably take some more time putting together a meaningful post . . . but a quick reaction:

I'm begining to think G/N/S isn't what I really care about.  D/F/K (which you strongly point out is NOT G/N/S) may be much more interesting/valuable.  "Fortune in the middle" is REALLY interesting.  And maybe I don't need to be fully lined up on all the nuances of one particular G/N/S interpretation to run with this other stuff . . .

Gordon C. Landis
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