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Author Topic: The roots of Sim II  (Read 20510 times)
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« on: February 04, 2004, 12:10:44 PM »

I can't believe that I'm about to do this at this point.

If Gamism and Narrativism are the modes that are most accessible (am I using the correct terminology now - if not substitute the right words, y'all know what I'm talking about), then how did Sim play become so predominant. Such that it's the problematic mode that prevents so much entry into RPGs?

I really fear that one of two answers will seem to present themselves.

1. RPGs were played a lot by young folks like myself in the 1980s. Furthermore, it could be argued that the RPGs were ghettoized by social backlash against these activities. Meaning that only the nerds ended up playhing. Meaning potentially that the source of this gaming was socially underdeveloped players. Which actually relates to the second point.

2. Since gameplay has always had problems with coherence, Sim may have been found to be the "solution" to incoherence. That is, if we want story, and we don't know how to facilitate Narrativism, then we'll quash Gamism and get as close as we can with Sim. This is also known as the "Beeg Horseshoe Theory"

Now, I don't ascribe to either theory. So would someone please denounce these thoroughly and tell me where Sim does come from? In any case, it's obvious to me, as I've stated before, that the GM's were "to blame". I think that people predisposed with games enough to run them tend to be more the sim types. I think we asked for these games.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2004, 12:32:37 PM »

Hello,

The above was split from The roots of Sim (response to Narr essay), as it's kind of a hefty topic.

Best,
Ron
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #2 on: February 04, 2004, 01:14:42 PM »

It's the same reason that more Etch-A-Sketch art depicts city skylines than horses. It's what the tools we were handed were helpful for creating.

- Walt
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2004, 01:39:05 PM »

My gut, knee-jerk reaction is to make certain generalities about the people who had played RPGs at the time in question like your #1. i.e. many of them were computer programmers, and as such were concerned with making a computer model, such as it is. But, we have no real data about the roleplaying population, so such generalities are unfounded. SO we can drop that right now.

I'm not really familiar with the beeg Horse theory. Can you summarize?
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Bankuei
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« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2004, 01:47:41 PM »

Hi Mike,

To what level do you believe the roots of the wargaming crowd may have had an influence on the development of Sim gaming?  I have a strong feeling that this might point us in the right direction.

Chris
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james_west
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« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2004, 02:23:21 PM »

Quote from: Bankuei
To what level do you believe the roots of the wargaming crowd may have had an influence on the development of Sim gaming?  


I was about to go here myself.

My group back in the early 80's played wargames long before we ever saw a role-playing game. I bought the books to D&D, and we started playing otherwise in a vacuum (no interaction with other gamers).

Even at the time, I recall a striking dissimilarity between how games went when I played them with other ex-wargamers, and how they went when I played them with 'civilians'.

- James
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2004, 02:55:59 PM »

Mike,

I cannot denounce those thoroughly, but I think I can speak to "something else" that is where Sim comes from - or at least why it's an actual functional play mode rather than "just" a rejection of Nar and Game.

The rejection of Nar and Game phenomena is real (though by no means all-pervasive), I think - this is why your 1 and 2 can't be entirely denounced.  Trying to do Nar and Game can invite all kinds of social (social, NOT GNS per se) dysfunction distinct from the socail issues of play in general because of the nature of doing Step On Up or Adressing Premise in play.  Rejecting them because of that can be an entirely rational ("natural", even, if we can confine that word to something meaningful in this discussion) reaction.  The first question is, can you actually enjoy what is left when you do that?  The next question is, do you really prefer that over what you might get if you could successfully navigate the problems of Game and Nar?

Since the answer to the first question is (IMO) "yes", the answer to the second becomes a matter of personal taste.  That the answer to the first question IS yes is (maybe) questionable, but I'm prepared to defend it vigorously even though I try and steer away from Sim play nowadays.  I will allow that it's perhaps a little surprising that the answer is yes, but when I think about various groups I've played with over the years, it becomes (to my mind) undeniable.

Because when you reject Nar and Game (for whatever reason - reaction to dysfunction or just plain not going there because of the nature of the tools and/or personal inclination) and Explore - just Explore, as its own priority - you (re?)find your ability to create/discover imaginitvely.  As you do it, it does NOT have to serve any other end.  You can take pleasure in the thing itself - because if the thing itself were not pleasurable, how would you ever have incentive to take it and use it towards other ends?

I've been thinking lately that it is *possible* that Sim play is later viewed by the participants through a Nar/Game-like filter - that Nar/Game-like sensibilities do apply, just not as a priority during play.  And maybe without THAT fact, Sim wouldn't remain as widely "catchy" as it is.  But certainly during play, that's not relevant - the group is (in various manners and styles) jazzing on Pure Exploration.  And that's a heady drug.  For some folks, being free from the confines of Game or Nar agenda HELPS, rather than hinders.

Now for some people, realizing that the problems that arise with a Game or Nar agenda are NOT irresolvable, that it is in fact possible to have a functional game that pursues those ends - well, when they realize that, the buzz from one of those agendas is bigger than that from The Dream.  But for other people, it just isn't.  They may have gotten there as a reaction (Beeg Horseshoe?), or simply by doing what seemed cool to them (E in GENder?) - but they are happy to be there.  Pursuing THAT as their priority (with maybe G or N-like assesment of the RESULT of play occuring outside the gameplay itself) is exactly what they want.

Hope that's the kind of response you were looking for,

Gordon
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jdagna
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« Reply #7 on: February 04, 2004, 04:13:12 PM »

I don't know if I can offer more than anecdotal evidence, but here's what I've got to offer, starting with the negatives to help define what I did want.

I did not go Narrativist for a very simple reason: I was sick and tired of everything having (or needing) a point.  Now, don't get me wrong - I enjoy a good movie or book and like analyzing the theme and all the nuances.  But real life doesn't play out that way for me, so literature and film generally ring hollow.  I cringe when authors  use ridiculous coincidences as a way to drive the story - I'd generally rather see something less scripted happen.  If that would be nothing, then I've got no problem letting a story finish without resolution and without addressing Premise.  Let people create meaning afterward if they want to.

I'm sure much of this stems from a desire to write which has been largely self-stifled because I can't seem to come up with anything "important enough".  What I really need to do is let myself write the way I role-play, without trying to address anything, but that's a whole 'nother issue.

Now, the Gamist question isn't quite so clear-cut, especially since I've done my share of Gamist play over the years.  However, I've never gone all-out Gamist for two reasons.  First, I'm not really that competitive (no, really).  I like being second place, where I can prove my merit but without having to spend time in the limelight or defending my position.  Second, I feel like other areas are better-suited to competitive play: board/card games, sports and, let's face it, school and work.  Also, role-playing has always been recreation for me, and the last thing I want is lots of serious competition and challenges when I'm trying to relax.

So, all I really wanted was a group dream.  See the sights, exercise the brain, collaborate with each other and all within a structure that provided the answer to "what next?" if we ever got stuck.  If all else failed, I could roll up a random encounter and keep going (not that we did that much).  It's like a brain storming session with structure.  

I feel very strongly that this free-form group dream is a desirable goal in and of itself, not just a compromise or rejection of opposites.  There's just something truly freeing about a creative pasttime with neither a goal or a point (especially in a culture that tends to stress that everything should have both goals and points).

Anyway, in terms of gamer culture at large, I see both of the theories you point to at work, but I'm not sure they're really the driving ones for most people (such as myself).  In fact, they both strike me as akin to correlational data like the statistic that crime rates parallel ice cream sales.  Crime and ice cream are unrelated except that they both depend on warm weather and tourists to some degree.  So the prevalence of Sim players may correlate with Sim-based coping strategies (essentially that's what both of your theories are), but a mere relation doesn't prove or imply cause and effect.
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Justin Dagna
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John Kim
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« Reply #8 on: February 04, 2004, 05:08:35 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
1. RPGs were played a lot by young folks like myself in the 1980s. Furthermore, it could be argued that the RPGs were ghettoized by social backlash against these activities. Meaning that only the nerds ended up playhing. Meaning potentially that the source of this gaming was socially underdeveloped players.

Sure, RPGs were and are nerdy -- but so is chess.  Tabletop roleplaying is a sedentary mental activity, and this applies regardless of whether it is Gamist Tunnels and Trolls or Narrativist Prince Valiant.  I'm not seeing a GNS distinction on this basis.  If anything, the subset suffering the least from perception as nerds that I've seen were Vampire LARP players -- which is highly GNS Simulationist.  For example, there was a Swing magazine cover story which pointed to vampire LARPs as "the new singles scene".  You don't see that about Tunnels and Trolls.  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
2. Since gameplay has always had problems with coherence, Sim may have been found to be the "solution" to incoherence. That is, if we want story, and we don't know how to facilitate Narrativism, then we'll quash Gamism and get as close as we can with Sim. This is also known as the "Beeg Horseshoe Theory"

Eh?  This seems backwards to me.  Surely it would be more GNS-coherent to stick with the Gamism of games like Tunnels and Trolls or The Fantasy Trip.  Shifting from that to GNS Simulationism would make incoherence worse, not better.  Further, if Narrativism is more natural, then why would they shift from Gamism -> Simulationism instead of Gamism -> Narrativism?
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clehrich
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« Reply #9 on: February 04, 2004, 05:47:45 PM »

Quote from: John Kim
Quote from: Mike Holmes
1. RPGs were played a lot by young folks like myself in the 1980s. Furthermore, it could be argued that the RPGs were ghettoized by social backlash against these activities. Meaning that only the nerds ended up playhing. Meaning potentially that the source of this gaming was socially underdeveloped players.

....I'm not seeing a GNS distinction on this basis.  If anything, the subset suffering the least from perception as nerds that I've seen were Vampire LARP players -- which is highly GNS Simulationist. ...
I think you missed this one, John.  If I get Mike's point right, it's that since Sim approaches arise developmentally early (last thread), and since the RPG crowd were ghettoized and socially underdeveloped, therefore the average RPG nerd would be somewhat closer to Sim priorities already.

I don't buy it, though, because I think it requires an exceptional coincidence of timing, one which would require explanation.  That is, how does it happen that precisely the type of weak development that manifests itself in teen nerds just so happens also to be the type of development that parallels Sim priorities?  I think there would have to be a causal relationship, in which case we're going quite deeply into Naturalism again.

Mike, does that knock that one sufficiently?  I'm stuck on the other.

Chris Lehrich
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Chris Lehrich
Jason Lee
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« Reply #10 on: February 04, 2004, 06:08:03 PM »

Jack,

The Beeg Horseshoe is the graphical representation of GNS that puts G on one end of a horseshoe shape and N at the other, with S being the sliding scale that makes up the horseshoe instead of an independent priority. (Probably analogous to a horseshoe magnet, but I could be wrong about that.)

The two most relevant threads are:

The Beeg Horseshoe Theory (original post by Jared)
Beeg Horseshoe Theory Revisited (monster discussion courtesy of Mike)

*****

Which leads into John,

Quote from: John Kim
Eh?  This seems backwards to me.  Surely it would be more GNS-coherent to stick with the Gamism of games like Tunnels and Trolls or The Fantasy Trip.  Shifting from that to GNS Simulationism would make incoherence worse, not better.  Further, if Narrativism is more natural, then why would they shift from Gamism -> Simulationism instead of Gamism -> Narrativism?


With the beeg horseshoe moving from G -> N is moving from G -> S-> N, presumably the point Mike was making was about getting stuck at S because of an N / G tug of war (correct me if I'm wrong).

*****

Bringing us to Mike,

Quote from: Mike Holmes
1. RPGs were played a lot by young folks like myself in the 1980s. Furthermore, it could be argued that the RPGs were ghettoized by social backlash against these activities. Meaning that only the nerds ended up playhing. Meaning potentially that the source of this gaming was socially underdeveloped players. Which actually relates to the second point.

2. Since gameplay has always had problems with coherence, Sim may have been found to be the "solution" to incoherence. That is, if we want story, and we don't know how to facilitate Narrativism, then we'll quash Gamism and get as close as we can with Sim. This is also known as the "Beeg Horseshoe Theory"


Number one is a maybe for me.   I kind of doubt it because I don't see Sim as particularly more "nerdy".  Gam's got its fair share of nerdy in the form of 'smart guys are dorks' and Nar has the whole drama club geek factor.  If you happen to be making a connection between social ineptitude and being unable to resolve G/N conflicts through social contract, well, I'd agree with that connection.

Number two I think I agree with, because exploration is universal to all modes.  If you just stick with exploration in your design then N or G can latch on to it just fine.  By going for just exploration you won't be excluding anyone's agenda.  This completely ignores the fact that if you don't exclude an agenda the people are probably going to fight about it.  Hmmm... seems a whole lot like geek social fallacy #1 (Five Geek Social Fallacies)
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2004, 04:14:48 PM »

John, Chris, Jason, I won't defend positions number one and number two, because I'm trying to get people to disprove them. It's like you guys aren't reading the rest of the post. Or are you just trying to play devil's advocate here?


I'm trying to be too clever here. To lay my agenda bare, to avoid further confusion like this, what I'm doing is trying to attack the supposition that Sim is a childish activity by presenting what I think are the biased projections based on what that would entail. That is, I think that the original argument has an agenda, and I want to expose it.

I'll put words into Jared's mouth because I don't think he'll mind. If somebody wants to warn him that I'm abusing him, please do - he'll find it amusing most likely. Jared says in the Beeg Horseshoe that Sim does not exist as a priority, but as an accident of play. That is, players too chicken to try to win or to try and create good story instead "retreat" into not doing either. Then they call it their "preference" so as not to have to admit to their lack of courage. Note that Justin cops to it above - he doesn't want to compete or work too hard to make a story (have to figure out how to balance plausibility and drama, you see), so he just ends up doing the easy part, just exploring.

So is Sim just "Mental Masturbation?" Are those who are self confident able to go beyond Sim and do what they really want to do, which is competing and making art, while the rest just hide from the fun?

Now, again, I don't buy this line of reasoning. So I'm asking for others to help me destroy it. But all I get ends up sounding like support.

Some say that it's the tools that we had, or the fact that we were wargamers. Heck, I resemble that remark! My first hobby games were Panzerblitz and Kingmaker (the same cousin who taught me that later taught me TFT). Wargames certainly have a sorta simmy feel, but aren't they undeniably Gamist as well? I mean, sure you can play a game as a test, but even then, aren't you trying to do well to simulate what the people "would do"? And aren't you proving that you're as smart as them or smarter by winning? Step On Up pervades these things. When you win, you stand up from the table and go, yeah!

From others all I get are circular arguments about how it's a preference. That's like telling me that if I'm afraid to go swimming in the deep end that it's OK because it's my preference. Based on that sort of reasoning, sure, whatever you do is OK. What I need is some support that simmies are actually the cool people, and doing it because they're bold in their persuit.

But I don't think that's forthcoming. Not because I buy the arguments above, but because I think that what really happens is that nobody plays Sim, period. At least not in the way that the model makes one think that people do. That was the point in my second stab at it in the link so thoughtfully provided by Jason.

To be more precise in what I mean, generally, the problem is that the current model makes Sim a separate priority from the other two. Well, think of it this way, we all prioritize all three modes. All the time. Now, what GNS says, and I agree, is that at times you have to "break" one way or another. That is, there are times when you have to make a choice that will be seen as Sim or Gam, or whatever. When you do so, you "reveal" your mode. It's at these times that the agenda is revealed.

Ron notes that this is generally true, and why to come up with the overall agenda you have to watch a lot of play. Looking for the obvious moments. Because, as Walt would put it, most play is congruent. You can't tell, looking at it what's being prioritized - really because this isn't one of those decisions that makes you reveal. In fact, like most decisions in play, they aren't really G or N or S at all. They're just exploration. The base of play.

So when can you tell a Sim decision? Well, it would theoretically be when a case came up in which one decision would be Gamist or Narrativist, and the other would be Sim. The thing is, Narrativism requires plausibility too (according to Ron). So looking at a particular decision how can you tell if it's Narrativist and not Sim? Well, because it creates some theme by adressing some premise.

Note that, other than saying that I'm not doing this, I can't identify it as Sim. Aha! See! Retreat! Nonsense. Why would I make that decision not to address a premise. Why not do that?

Think about it, for a second....

Because it's not plausible? That's the only thing that I can come up with. Basically, support of verisimilitude or whatever sim is, is supporting plausibility. So have I really decided to "just explore" or have I decided simply to defer making a thematic statement until a more appropriate time?

Same with Gamism. When presented with a choice to win or to be plausible, is going with plausibility really not facing the challenge? I can't remember who coined the term but doesn't the "Gentleman Gamist" defer the winning move simply to make the game more interesting - plausible in this case?

Yes, I might be a coward in either of the two cases. But then I can be a coward about putting the effort in to be plausible too. These are all bad forms of play. To say that this is what Sim is all about is to say it's bad play.

It's not. It's simply a matter of the choices made in play to maintain what is unique to roleplaying. I can tell a story, but that doesn't allow me to really Explore in RPG terms. I can play a game, but that doesn't allow me to Explore, either. Only in RPGs can we Explore. And when I'm doing so, I'm boldly saying, "This is neither a game, nor a story! This is a RPG and it kicks the asses of the other two because it has something that they don't, and can never have!"

So, sure we can talk all day about the priorites that people have, and when they'll break one way or another. Or what he agenda is as a group. That's all fine. But players who cherish exploration, and who prioritize it aren't retreating from Gamism or Narrativism. They're setting them aside temporarily in certain cases to ensure that the exploration isn't messed up. But as soon as the "crisis" has past, the player picks up all three, and continues to march towards story and victory.

Once again, none of this contradicts GNS fundamentally. But it allows us all to talk about our styles of play with pride and dignity again, and I'll bet that everyone who adopts this POV will have no further problem with GNS.

John Kim will see that his Water Uphil game was Narrativist in that it was about certain issues that the players and GM concocted on the spot, but that it also took pains to encourage factors that lead to plausibility. Marco will see just how his gameplay does promote Narrativism in a similar way, yet also takes pains at points to cherish the exploration.

Looking at Ron's latest definition for Narrativism, that it's about players feeling an emotional investment in what the character is doing...how isn't that absolutely all of roleplaying? When do I make a decision that says, "Hoo, don't want to be too emotional here." Nobody does that. What they may do is say at times, "Well, to be certain that there's a proper emotional payoff when the proper moment does arrive, I'll support the exploration here."

Sim supports Gamism and Narrativism. We "fall back" to it precisely because without it we'd be telling stories or playing games. In fact from another perspective, most play is Sim play because it's only at the moment of the "reveal" that we note Gamism or Narrativisim at all! While we're always exploring. I mean, if all we ever did was make purely Gamist decisions, we'd just be playing a game. If all we ever did was make Narrativist decisions, all we'd be doing is making a story.

So, Beeg Horseshoe it is. We Explore. Then, occasionally, we do Gamist or Narrativist stuff in that framework. How often this happens will vary by game. One can call prioritizing the exploration highly Simulationism, and that works. But it's unneccessary, and confusing, because it makes people think that there's no Narrativism or Gamism going on. They're there too. In every game, all the time. To the extent that they can be without messing up the particular group's sense of exploration.

This is all so crystal clear in my head, that the only thing that surprises me is that I still feel that my words aren't doing it justice. I think I have the solution to all the problems with the theory here if I could just get people to understand what I'm saying.

Am I getting through!

Mike
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #12 on: February 05, 2004, 05:37:59 PM »

If I'm following you, Mike, you're saying, in effect, that Simulationism is roleplaying because the act of Exploration is the common act that underlies all roleplaying and both Narrativism and Gamism sit on top of it. It's this exploration that keeps Narrativism from just being collaborative writing and Gamism from just being a board game or something.

Is this what you mean?
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talysman
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« Reply #13 on: February 05, 2004, 05:52:35 PM »

I hear where you're coming from, Mike. I'll try to address the problem from my perspective, so we can see if we're any closer to a resolution.

now, Ron has expressed the opinion that the roots of Sim are in plain make-believe, which occurs early on, and that the early non-rpg versions of Step On Up and Story Now appear later as a development from make-believe. this leads to the conclusion that Sim is a sort-of throw-back mode and somewhat inferior, which was suggested by his first comments in the other Roots of Sim thread, although his later comments seem to be suggesting something different -- that Sim is a development of make-believe, the same as Gamist/Narrativist, but along a different "branch" of development, with Gam/Nar being two prongs of the first "branch".

still, there seems to be a lingering perception of Sim-as-make-believe that keeps popping up, which as you rightly suggest leads to the conclusion that Sim is some kind of "fallback" either because of the widespread immaturity of gamers or as a defense against incoherence.

I don't buy the idea of Sim-as-make-believe. I also don't buy Ron's idea of Sim being a problematic form of play that prevents rpgs from rising out of the ghetto. I think the ghetto-ization of rpgs is entirely due to content issues (fetishism, sexism, etc.) and the Illusionist approach to Sim. Illusionism is a valid form of play, but operationally it is "all players play Sim except one special player, the GM, who plays Nar". to enjoy Illusionism, you have to accept this usually unspoken approach to play -- and people who would prefer Gamist or Narrativist play immediately rebel against Illusionism because it strikes them as severly unfair. a non-Illusionist Sim game would attract more players, as would Gam or Nar games with Sim appearing only in a supporting role, if at all.

but back to Sim-as-make-believe. as I said, I don't agree with this: I think Exploration-as-make-believe is acceptable, but Exploration exists as a foundation for all role-playing, while Sim is Exploration-plus-something-else, as we've mentioned time and time again. still, no one has quite been able to explain what that "something else" is, although we know it has something to do with plausibility or verisimilitude or something like that -- taking Exploration a few steps further. it's the difference between pretending to be Captain Kirk and drawing up starship plans: both rely on make-believe, but one is a little more sophisticated, just not in the same way that Gamism and Narrativism are more sophisticated than plain make-believe.

I think the binary opposition between Gam/Nar and Sim is that of Self and Other, with "Self" meaning here the player. when a player has an internal priority of addressing a Premise (even one the player is has not fully verbalized) or makes decisions based on risking esteem to face a challenge, the player is prioritizing Self over Other. if, on the other hand, the player is more concerned with how the imaginary constructs of the character and setting fit together, worries about inconsistancies and gameworld plausibility, and so on, that is prioritizing Other over Self. I feel this is the fundamental difference between Exploration (imagining the Other) and Simulationism (focusing on the Other over internal concerns.)

does this answer the question?
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John Laviolette
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Jason Lee
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« Reply #14 on: February 05, 2004, 07:33:18 PM »

Mike,

Quote from: Mike Holmes
John, Chris, Jason, I won't defend positions number one and number two, because I'm trying to get people to disprove them. It's like you guys aren't reading the rest of the post. Or are you just trying to play devil's advocate here?


Heh, sorry.  I think we were all making pretty similar points to try to break apart #1.  As for #2:  Chris (L. right?) skipped it; I think John (correct me if I'm wrong) was just trying to figure out where you were coming from before he could do anything with it; and I, well, I didn't do what you asked ;).

*****

As for the rest of your post, I'm generally in agreement, so I'll find it hard to pick apart with all the evidence in your favor floating around in my head (yes, you're making sense).  Looking at Sim as a conflicting priority is contrary to its often seen role as a supporting priority.  (The other option is that Sim isn't a supporting priority, it's a motivation seperate from the concept of verisimilitude/plausibility/consistency/integrity/fidelity.  I don't know if I buy that answer, but I'm still thinking on it.)

I think my opinion differs a bit from the Beeg Horseshoe though.  Right now, my thinking is that I'd favor individual Fidelity dials on each Exploration element instead of a Sim axis.  The Beeg Horseshoe (or the dual axis model) has the major advantage of not breaking GNS, which my idea does not.

I know this is just more fuel for the fire, but think about this:  It seem to me that a player could conflict with himself S/G and S/N, but not G/N (Sim works differently than the other two).
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