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Author Topic: What is Right to Dream for?  (Read 9964 times)
Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #45 on: March 23, 2010, 08:38:15 PM »

Yes, I think that I'm getting what Simon's saying. Let me paraphrase for added understanding: All roleplaying necessarily has an "ethical dimension" in the sense that we will for the most part only care to play games that discuss human issues: whether narrativist or simulationist (or gamist, I guess), the game will regardless center on the human condition. There are exceptions that are sort of important in demonstrating that this isn't an inherent property of Creative Agenda, but it seems that the great majority of roleplaying is focused on discussing humanity.

If the above is a correct understanding, then I'll have to agree with the basic observation: we don't usually play games that don't have interesting content, and for the most part the interesting content can be considered to rise from the human condition. However, I don't know that this'd make Simulationism a mis-categorization; we've known for a long time that simulationistic games can and often will deal with the human condition, the ethical dimension: what makes it qualitatively different from narrativism is exhaustively analyzed by the premise-theme model of Narrativism; simulationistic games might have - and often do have - a theme, but it's preset and the purpose of the game is to express that theme, not to create it.

Bringing this back to Simon's original Traveller example, the question is pretty simple: did the game have a theme saying that "the universe is uncaring and what we do only matters to us", or did it have a premise of "how do we react to an uncaring universe?" In other words, insofar as the game dealt with the human condition, was it affirming an unstated ethical viewpoint, or was it looking to elicit an ethical statement from the players? The difference is usually pretty simple to observe in actual play by looking at the choices made by the players: do they choose how to interpret the game's style into concrete fiction, or do they make choices as to what the theme should be by observing the fiction?

If this is addressing Simon's point in a meaningful way, then a further observation can be made: correctly recognizing a simulationistic, themeful game as such is useful because then we can ask the right question: how can we make this game expose the theme more naturally, reliably and powerfully? Some basically simulationistic games, such as Call of Cthulhu (played as sim) go to great lengths in their game texts to answer this question. The equivalent thematic question for narrativism is different - namely, how can we make this game address (in the technical sense) this premise more efficiently. It's a different question, with different techniques in answer.

The interesting theoretical question here seems to be whether themeful simulationism and a presumably existing themeless simulationism are actually appreciably similar, contiguous and compatible in actual play; many people have, with varying degrees of understanding on the basic issues, criticized GNS-simulationism as a concept exactly because they think that it's actually miscategorizing several Creative Agendas under on umbrella term. Probably beyond the scope of this discussion, that.
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Silmenume
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« Reply #46 on: March 23, 2010, 09:00:58 PM »

For myself only, well said!
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Simon C
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« Reply #47 on: March 23, 2010, 09:02:14 PM »

Eero, I'm really glad you posted this.  I think you make a good summation of my basic point, which is helping me to pin down exactly what I'm getting at.  I'm still feeling my way through this discussion.

I'm hanging on to the idea that theme IS inherant to creative agenda, and that the concept of Right to Dream (and by extension Step on Up and Story Now) isn't a useful concept for describing play.  I think a far more useful concept is the idea of phatic versus engaging theme.

By phatic, I mean that the theme is present, but there's no expectation of meaningful challenge to the theme, we are less interested in what statements are made about the theme, and more interested in the process of making those statements.

By engaging, I mean the theme is a genuinely challenging proposition for the players.  We don't know how we feel about the issue, and in the course of play we find out.  We're interested in the statements that the players will make about the theme, through play.

This looks a lot like Right to Dream vs. Story Now, but there's an important difference.  A theme can exist on a continuum between phatic and engaging.  Some aspects of a theme can be engaging, and others not.  Players can be more or less engaged by the theme.  This, I think, encapsulates my experiences of this kind of play in a way that the "seperate and distinct" GNS categorisations do not.

How does that work for you?
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Simon C
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« Reply #48 on: March 23, 2010, 09:06:16 PM »

Oh, also Eero, I'm interested in examples of "Themeless Sim".  I don't have a good idea what that would look like.  Are we talking about Turku school stuff?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #49 on: March 23, 2010, 10:22:10 PM »

That's interesting what you say about accepted and challenged theme. Speaking strictly of definitions, it seems to me that if there is the sort of continuum you propose, then your initial claim that "sim doesn't exist, it's all really narrativism" is also correct. So let's look at that:

The usual claim about the separataness of the experience in simulationism versus narrativism is that strongly themed simulationism wants to celebrate and affirm the theme, not challenge it. My own best experience in this comes from when I've played a few short sessions of Vampire: the Masquerade, which is chock-full of a priori theming and theme affirmation as the content of play. I suck at playing that game! I just become extremely disruptive even if I don't want to be because I never seem to come upon the game truly willing to swallow the pre-delivered theme and the "right way" of doing things. As a consequence my character doesn't obey his betters, plot and betray, or even sit dimly in some corner angsting about the beast within. This, of course, is bullshit in that game's context, the idea is not for your character to walk into a research lab and donate his body to science. It just seems disruptive if you play the game without honoring the genre.

For a more general take, Star Trek gaming seems to suffer from this break in experience a lot, as does Call of Cthulhu. The idea in these games is not to take a human choice at face value, it is to affirm the theme by making the choice ascribed to your character role by genre convention. Superhero rpgs tend towards this direction often enough as well, I used to get into trouble with ill-conceited simulationistic superhero games that other players fucked up by grabbing at nar-style choices, killing villains and doing other no-no things. This sort of thing could be just crossed genre expectations (something that can happen within a single CA easily enough), but there is a clear dividing line: when your genre determines what your protagonist choices are about and therefore what the theme will be, then there's no narrativism possible, and only simulationism is left.

OK, so let's assume that everybody gets that part - why sim and nar can clash in that sort of exercise. Simon speculated above that what I describe above is not a binary condition but a continuum where a theme actually exists from the start, and it's just a matter of how engaging the theme is as a target of critique for the players; on the one end of the continuum we have a fully internalized theme (phatic theme) that is executed as a matter of course, while on the other we have a very contentious theme (engaging theme) which the players want to comment on and rebel against. To me the key question here is whether the latter is functional in the first place: what does it mean that we have an "engaging theme" that is, however, a theme and not a premise like in the narrativistic model? By asking this question I mean, how is it possible for this thing to be a theme if it is not being accepted, celebrated and affirmed by acting it out? Is the term "theme" meaningful as an art critique concept if we do not require the outcome of the play procedure to actually affirm this theme?

A supposition about the idea of continuum between phatic and engaging themes: it seems to me that a theme that is worthy of the name is necessarily completely phatic - that is, internalized by the group and enforced in play. If the group allows breaking the theme as a matter of procedure (such as by allowing player characters to kill villains without being villains themselves), then the theme loses its authoritative structuring power over the process of play and actually turns into a premise: no longer is the point of play in Exploring this fiction, theme included, but rather a new choice is entered: the GM obviously allows and appreciates it if I break the theme, so should I? It's an important choice, and if the group considers it an interesting one, then the game is well on its way towards narrativism.

The above might misunderstand something about Simon's idea, but assuming I got it correctly, I think that I'll have to disagree about the idea that there is a continuum from simulationistic thematic adherence to narrativistic creation of theme through play. At best we can say that there is a continuum in simulationistic play over how well-verbalized and abstracted a theme is; some games only have an implicit theme that emerges by correctly using the game mechanics (or setting), while others have clear mission statements posted in the game's introductory foreword. Similarly we might say that there is a continuum in narrativistic play from a focused universal premise pre-loaded into the game into a situation where the premise is only isolated through play and addressed organically. As an example of the latter, in Sorcerer you basically know in rought terms what the premise is and what you need to do to bring it to the fore, while in The Shadow of Yesterday you actually don't when the game begins; you'll only find it out through play, as players get into their roles.

--

Themeless simulationism: I agree that it's probably not possible to create a play experience that is completely themeless, insofar as we understand the term to mean human significance that makes us interested in fictional events (drama). Still, it seems to me that the existence of theme is fruitfully rejected by certain types of simulationistic play; we pretend that there is no theme, in other words. Perhaps it would be more exact to say that the concept of theme is creatively counter-productive to a game like Twilight 2000, as a big part of the game's enticement is an uncompromising objective realism that the players need to trust to get their kicks out of imagining the barren post-war anarchy painted by the game. Bringing up something like theme in a game like this would be a direct reminder that a narrative cannot be the same thing as objective reality.

Then there are the situations where a roleplaying game doesn't get concerned with the human condition at all. (Remembering here that I'm operating from the Big Model definition of what a roleplaying game is - it'd be entirely fair to decide that these edge cases are no longer roleplaying games.) This might be controversial, but I've been thinking lately that a certain sort of weird genre simulation seems to be the order of the day in 4th edition D&D: some groups seem to play the game not from a gamist viewpoint, but with the idea that the DM's duty in the game is to achieve a "perfect dungeoneering adventure experience", specifically limiting the idea of "challenge" into a simulation of the same by carefully balancing (balancing tools are probably the largest break these newer D&D editions make with the old) and cheating his way into the proper outcomes in play. This is simulationism insofar as I can see, but it's a very system-focused sort that doesn't have much in the way of engaging fictional theme. To play this sort of game you don't have to be concerned with the human experience of a dungeon adventurer, you just have to be able to visualize the dungeon environment correctly to use it to your advantage. Theme or no theme?
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Simon C
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« Reply #50 on: March 23, 2010, 11:21:47 PM »


A supposition about the idea of continuum between phatic and engaging themes: it seems to me that a theme that is worthy of the name is necessarily completely phatic - that is, internalized by the group and enforced in play. If the group allows breaking the theme as a matter of procedure (such as by allowing player characters to kill villains without being villains themselves), then the theme loses its authoritative structuring power over the process of play and actually turns into a premise: no longer is the point of play in Exploring this fiction, theme included, but rather a new choice is entered: the GM obviously allows and appreciates it if I break the theme, so should I? It's an important choice, and if the group considers it an interesting one, then the game is well on its way towards narrativism.

The above might misunderstand something about Simon's idea, but assuming I got it correctly, I think that I'll have to disagree about the idea that there is a continuum from simulationistic thematic adherence to narrativistic creation of theme through play. At best we can say that there is a continuum in simulationistic play over how well-verbalized and abstracted a theme is; some games only have an implicit theme that emerges by correctly using the game mechanics (or setting), while others have clear mission statements posted in the game's introductory foreword. Similarly we might say that there is a continuum in narrativistic play from a focused universal premise pre-loaded into the game into a situation where the premise is only isolated through play and addressed organically. As an example of the latter, in Sorcerer you basically know in rought terms what the premise is and what you need to do to bring it to the fore, while in The Shadow of Yesterday you actually don't when the game begins; you'll only find it out through play, as players get into their roles.

Eero, I think your understanding of theme is a little different to mine, because I'm not seeing how theme must be phatic to be worthy of the name.  I think of theme more like a framework, a reference point against which we give meaning to the actions of the characters.  If the group allows the superheroes to kill the villains without becoming villains themselves, maybe they're just playing with a different theme?

I think in labratory conditions or something you might find a theme that was never challenged at all, but in actual play this happens all the time.  Now sure, I think there's a big difference in the feel of play depending on how this challenge to the theme is handled, whether we like it and go with it, or whether we shut it down and enjoy the reaffirmation of the rightness of our theme.  But I think those two things can happen in the same game at different times, without it being definititive of a radically different agenda.  What typically happens is that some genre conventions are up for grabs, and others aren't, sometimes it's ok to challenge the definitions of the characters or the setting, and sometimes it's not.

I'm really struggling to see the distinction between Right to Dream and Story Now that you're trying to maintain.

Twilight 2000: Ask yourself, why are the players playing this game, and not another? Why play a game of survival in a post-apocalyptic world, and not, for example, a game about college-age American gamers? If the only goal is objective realism, they'll be much more successful in the latter endeavor.  I argue that they're playing Twilight 2000 because they enjoy the idea of survival in a world stripped of the "softness" of contemporary society.  It's the testing of themselves to see if they could "really" survive in such a world (except that I think actuall testing is not the goal, but rather proving that, without the strictures of society, the gamers would be powerful and fearless).  The supposedly "realistic" and objective rules are key to addressing that theme.
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David Berg
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« Reply #51 on: March 23, 2010, 11:30:45 PM »

I'm hanging on to the idea that theme IS inherant to creative agenda, and that the concept of Right to Dream (and by extension Step on Up and Story Now) isn't a useful concept for describing play.
Dude.  Why?  Why are you hanging onto this? 

Seriously.  None of the productive portions of this thread rely on it.

If you care about whether the G/N/S distinction is useful or it isn't, please do some research, find out, and tell us.

Back to theme: in my own RtD (or "RtD"; whatever) play, observations on the human condition come and go in various scales. 

1) My game Delve is embedded with a basic "What will you do to get what you want?" theme, with "evil magic" color hung on "what will you do" and "rise from peasanthood" on "what you want". 

2) The players customize "not peasanthood" before play, coming up with goals like "become a famed and feared slayer of evil", "become the leader of a new political power not based on noble titles", and "become the grand vizier to a great leader".  So now the campaign takes on potential themes of narcissism, vengeance, revolution, manipulation, and selling out.

3) The characters meet some guys who are like them, but with more experience.  These veterans are extremely helpful, but also a bit condescending.  The players' reactions to them linger, as the veterans are a frequent topic of discussion and questions in planning.  "Should we find those guys and tell them this new info?  Should we work with them on this mission?"  I'm stunned by the amount of animosity the players generate.  The human concerns of jealousy and respect somehow become a recurring part of play.

4) The characters are doing something else when they witness a murder.  They capture the murderer, take him out to the woods, take all his stuff, interrogate him, and debate letting him go.  Finally one character steps up and kills him, gleefully exacting justice; another character helps, grimly resolved; the third dislikes it but goes along for practical reasons.  The human concerns of justice and mercy showed up for a few minutes and then went away.

5) One character starts humming a battle ballad on his way into town, and mentions that the hero's name fits the same meter as his own name.  The human concern of being remembered popped up for a handful of seconds.

So, I see human concerns being tackled hither and yon, resulting from game design, char-gen, GM adventure design, and inspired roleplay of the moment.  That last happens a ton, because each player is simultaneously looking to (a) express their character vision, (b) think as their character and really dig into the experience, and (c) respond to everyone else doing the same.

How can high-color, character-driven play not address human concerns at every turn?

Open-ended situations, where players have no "right answer", and must choose, and comment on the human condition while doing so!  Sounds like addressing premise and creating theme, right?  However... I've done all these things in a Marvel Superheroes game too, where we really did emulate those comic stories.  You know that the Punisher kills people, but who knows if he gets jealous of better vigilantes?

On the other side of the spectrum, long ago I had some games where everyone was focused on coming up with engineering projects to maximize effectiveness.  Not much character portrayal, more color on objects in space than on people; human concerns few and far between.

There's a spectrum, but I'm fuzzy on what it'd mean to say it goes from "phatic theme" to "engaging theme".  Maybe "more engaging themes than phatic themes" to "more phatic themes than engaging themes"?  Or do we need a term other than "theme" for commentary on the human condition that only takes up a few minutes of play?

Looking for one single theme ("phatic" or "engaging") that defines each game I've ever played seems completely impossible.  What was the theme of my GURPS game where we played vampires, aliens and robots bent on world conquest, helping each other but also competing?
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #52 on: March 24, 2010, 02:23:38 AM »

Hi Simon,

Iíd so much rather talk about the positive ideas you are bringing up, than argue the usefulness or uselessness of Creative Agenda and, in particular, the distinction between Nar and Sim at the intersection (or overlapping) of thematically charged up Sim play, and richly imaginative Nar play. I have actually struggled with that distinction myself, to a point where I wasnít even sure which of both it was I was playing (or was it a Hybrid?) Let me put it this way: GNS is an angle. It has been a good angle for some people to see where they were itching. For you (and me), at this point other angles may be more useful, but whereís the point in asking others to justify how GNS has been of use to them? In particular as GNS is actually giving us a framework right now so I can know where your angle is located, and compare it to mine.

Quote
A theme can exist on a continuum between phatic and engaging.  Some aspects of a theme can be engaging, and others not.  Players can be more or less engaged by the theme.  This, I think, encapsulates my experiences of this kind of play in a way that the "seperate and distinct" GNS categorisations do not.
   
Thatís an interesting observation. I think itís important to note that ďunchallengedĒ Sim themes can still be dynamic and engaging. Thatís also my issue with Vincentís explanation of Sim play (and, less so, with Ronís terminology of ďpresetĒ theme): They make it sound static and lame. But in Sim play, theme doesnít have to be static, it can evolve as all participants add to it. That is constructive denial at work. However, opposed to Nar, the point of play is not to challenge thematic statements once they have been made. In Sim play, you enlarge on theme, you modify and evolve theme. In Nar play, you question and challenge theme, tear it down and build it up again from scratch.

I would suggest this distinction can be there and can be fine and isnít the same as the distinction between phatic and engaging theme, which is an interesting and useful observation in and of itself.

So in a Sim context theme can be quite dynamic (thus, ďengagingĒ by your terms, Simon) if the game is highly thematically charged up and a lot of the playersí contributions are geared towards evolving the theme. The GNS expectation would be for it to still be disruptive if someone tried to throw the established theme out the window entirely, that would be a Nar thing to do.

Quote
What typically happens is that some genre conventions are up for grabs, and others aren't, sometimes it's ok to challenge the definitions of the characters or the setting, and sometimes it's not.

Thatís my experience, too. So you could say this is maybe just constructive denial at work, or maybe itís a hybrid, or maybe itís Story Now where sometimes the participants just sometimes chose not to challenge theme. I agree the distinction is rather pointless at that instance, and itís more useful to focus on theme itself. Still I would say itís useful to be aware of when theme is affirmed/evolved and when it is questioned/challenged, so you can know what happened when you challenge something and you see your fellow player frown.

Itís just dangerous to take it as simplistic: ďYou either never challenge theme, or you always challenge it.Ē Thatís of course bogus.

- Frank
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Simon C
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« Reply #53 on: March 24, 2010, 09:37:01 PM »

I'm really tempted to agree that my understanding of theme and GNS can coexist.  It'd certainly be easier and possibly even more productive in the short term.  But the core of what I'm saying is essentially contradictory to GNS as I understand it, and I don't want to be burdened with maintaining allegiance to the old understanding simply for convenience.  Discarding GNS feels like lifting a weight off my shoulders.  I invite you all to try it.

For fun, I invite you to try discussing this idea without reference to GNS terms, and see if you find communicating any more difficult.  I suspect you won't.

Also, I think it's fair to point out that I'm essentially arguing for a null hypothesis.  GNS claims that there are (at least) three seperate and distinct creative agenda types, while I argue there are not.  I think I've demonstrated effectively that creative agendas are broadly overlapping and similar, and the burden of proof is on GNS to demonstrate that that's not the case.

Frank,

I think "throwing the established theme out the window" is a disruptive thing to do in any kind of game.  Many recent games are designed such that it's very hard to do this (Dogs, My Life With Master), but imagine a Sorcerer game where a player has their character ignore their Demon, and shirks on their Kicker. Instead they're off doing some other thing entirely.  Sorcerer is set up to as strongly as possible point you in the direction of a theme, but it's possible to avoid the theme entirely, and it derails play completely.  Dogs has a very simple mechanism for protecting its theme.  As soon as a Dog makes a choice that puts them outside the thematic scope of the game, they cease to be a Dog.  You don't keep playing while your Dogs go off to fight a futile war against the Territorial Authority.  You don't keep playing a Dog who has decided that actually the Demons are right.  If you kept playing these characters, you'd be derailing the theme of the game in an unproductive fashion.  How robust a game's theme is to various character and player actions is a function of design largely, and theme partly, I'm thinking.  There's no need to create a classification system that puts very robust games in one category, and very fragile games in another. 

Unquestioned aspects of the theme essentially become part of situation, is my thinking.  In Dogs, the situation is that you will play characters who make judgements about the people they meet.  In most modern D&D, the situation is that you will play heroes who fight against evil.  In most older D&D, the situation is that you will play hard-up adventurers hungry for gold.  In Sorcerer, the situation is that you will play people with strong desires, and ways of achieving those desires that will cost them.  In any of those games, questioning the situation can derail the theme.  Some of them are more robust to it than others.

David,

I'm not saying that all play has a single theme.  In fact, if you look you'll see that I said the opposite of that.  I also am not saying that all play is relevant to a theme.  I said the opposite of that as well.  What I'm saying is that meaningful play is play that's relevant to a theme, and that some games have that quality more than others.

It seems like all the things you mention in your Delve play could fall under the "what will you do" or "what you want" parts of the game's overarching theme.  Does that sound right to you? I don't think it's essential that they do, since I think that multi-theme play is probably a common thing, and "one theme per character" is probably a pretty common thing too.  But what I'm getting at is that theme is the "skewer" that holds together the other elements of play.  Small moments of play, where your characters make choices like "kill the hostage or not" or moments of seeming colour, like the character humming the ballad, are given meaning by their reference to the overarching theme(s).

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contracycle
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« Reply #54 on: March 25, 2010, 04:26:16 AM »

Also, I think it's fair to point out that I'm essentially arguing for a null hypothesis.  GNS claims that there are (at least) three seperate and distinct creative agenda types, while I argue there are not.  I think I've demonstrated effectively that creative agendas are broadly overlapping and similar, and the burden of proof is on GNS to demonstrate that that's not the case.

No you haven't, you've simply asserted it.  As I have explained, your perception that theme or premise or anything like that are significant in sim play does not describe the way it actually works.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #55 on: March 25, 2010, 06:58:43 AM »

Simon, sure, I agree. I didnít mean that theme. I meant the other Theme, the answer to Premise. But Iím probably the wrong person to argue about this because the whole concept of Addressing Premise never really worked for me. Itís just not a useful angle to me.

I was thinking the other day that I would like to hear your take on Step On Up. Thatíll maybe clarify what exactly you mean by ďthemeĒ, too.

- Frank
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ThoughtBubble
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« Reply #56 on: March 25, 2010, 11:28:22 AM »

Hey Simon,

I'm a little lost. Are we still on "There is no Right to Dream play"? It seems to me like we could be talking about any and all of the following:

  • All play is Story Now Play
  • There aren't 3 discreet and separate Creative Agendas
  • discussing games as they sit between "Challenging theme vs. Following theme"
  • Creative Agendas are worthless for anything
  • What is Role-Playing really about

Where do you want this conversation to go? I'd really like to say something that can help you out here.

- Daniel
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #57 on: March 25, 2010, 11:41:01 AM »

How robust a game's theme is to various character and player actions is a function of design largely, and theme partly, I'm thinking . . . Unquestioned aspects of the theme essentially become part of situation
Yeah!  This makes sense to me.  Let me see where this gets us:  We already have the ability to talk about baked-in situation.  Like, Dogs' missions of judgment, D&D's dungeon crawls, and any game's "Here's what the characters will be doing."  So, what's added by viewing this thematically?

By being aware of the human questions implicit in the game's overarching situation, we can create specific situations in play that address those, adding a fuller resonance to play.

If you have a game about killing monsters and taking their stuff, how is that interesting in the context of real-world player concerns?  Maybe folks are interested in how buddies bond through facing danger together.  If so, the group might opt to play through things like fight aftermaths and medical care, which might otherwise be skipped.

Is this along the lines of what you're thinking, Simon?

In the monster-killing example, there are lots of potential themes.  I'm not sure how is best for the group to tackle one or more of them.  Maybe they need to actually discuss "how does this resonate for you?" pre-play?  Because maybe it turns out that this group of players is interested in the morality of dehumanizing their adversaries; but the game never raises that concern, and the GM doesn't prep for it, and no one scene-frames toward it, so it never sees play.

Small moments of play, where your characters make choices like "kill the hostage or not" or moments of seeming colour, like the character humming the ballad, are given meaning by their reference to the overarching theme(s).

I'm quite disoriented on this point.  What qualifies as an "overarching theme"?  Is it a human concern that exerts an influence on the whole of play, a la your "skewer" formulation?  Or is it just any old human concern that happens to arise at a given moment?

That was my point with the Delve examples.  It seems weird to think of ballad-humming as having meaning in reference to "How much evil magic will you do to rise from peasanthood?"  I wouldn't know how to prep or frame scenes toward encouraging an act like humming.

If we ditch the specifics and generalize the game's theme to "What will you do to get what you want?", then we're back to the land of theme that's so dilute and universal that it seems meaningless to discuss.  Or, maybe discussing it isn't the point: the point is providing for it in terms of meaningful choices and obstacles, and that's true regardless of color or genre.  (A la Luke's "All roleplaying" contention.)

What do you think?

Ps,
-David
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Simon C
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« Reply #58 on: March 25, 2010, 12:31:34 PM »

Contracycle.

We could go back and forth with "I proved it" and "no you didn't", but I don't think we'd get anywhere.  Read what I've written so far.  If it seems like a compelling and useful way of understanding gaming, let's talk.  If it doesn't, maybe we could just go our seperate ways?

Frank,

The Step on Up thread is in the works.

Daniel,

I guess this is a "what is roleplaying really about" conversation, at the heart of it, though it's kind of a fatuous question.  What I'm saying, I think, is that the core of a coherant game's creative agenda is one or more themes, which are explored through play, where "explored" can mean anything from "challenged, addressed and questioned" to "affirmed, celebrated and reinforced".

David,

Yeah! You're asking some exciting, challenging questions.

I think that "design" means both what game designers do, creating system and often "baked in" situation, and also the work GMs and players do, creating characters, positioning them in the setting, creating opposition and opportunities.  For example, when you sit down to play Cyberpunk 2020 and you say "let's play a team of off-license paramedics scrambling for insurance money!" I think that's an act of design.   And yes, when you as the GM or as a player choose to play out a particular scene rather than not, or choose to apply a particular rules subsystem or not, you're making an aesthetic judgement according to your sense of theme.

I think the appeal of many traditional designs has been their ability to be shaped by the individual groups to address the particular theme(s) they're interested in, to allow play to shift over time and to cater to individual players.  I think the trade-off for that is that they often don't offer particularly strong system tools for addressing theme, and that they leave a lot of the design work in the hands of the players and the GM. 

An "overarching theme" is what turns the individual moments of play, the actions of the characters in the world, into a meanigful story.  I mean "meaningful" in the most basic sense, as in "able to be understood".  The events of play are no longer just "things happening" but rather events in a narrative.  I'm invoking some literary and psychological theory here that I don't understand super well myself.  Is this making sense to you though?
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contracycle
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Posts: 2984


« Reply #59 on: March 25, 2010, 03:00:58 PM »

We could go back and forth with "I proved it" and "no you didn't", but I don't think we'd get anywhere.  Read what I've written so far.  If it seems like a compelling and useful way of understanding gaming, let's talk.  If it doesn't, maybe we could just go our seperate ways?

Not as such, because your argument is that the terminology used here should change.  I have an interest in that; I have even more of an interest that you seem to be arguing that Sim should be downgraded to merely being a subset of Narr, and that Narr is "true" roleplaying.   I've read read you've written, and I don't think your taking on board the objections that have been raised.  Thus...

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I guess this is a "what is roleplaying really about" conversation, at the heart of it, though it's kind of a fatuous question.  What I'm saying, I think, is that the core of a coherant game's creative agenda is one or more themes, which are explored through play, where "explored" can mean anything from "challenged, addressed and questioned" to "affirmed, celebrated and reinforced".

OK, you think that, I don't think that, and I'll explain why.  As I've already pointed out, you're shifting the interest of exploration from the game wotld as imagined to some meaning which is interpreted onto it.  I don't think this is at all descriptive of a sizable chunk of RPG that actually goes on.  I've often seen people interested in and excited by a setting as such; it is the setting which engages their interest.  What they therefore want is an excuse to go and wander about in that setting, explore its internal causality and consistency.  This is exploration for its own sake not in service to addressing or questioning some alleged theme.  If there is to be a theme, which I don't consider strictly necessary, I would contend that it operates only at the Technique level - it is a tool as much as the pencils and dice.  It is not the point of play, and it is not central to the CA.  It is something which provides the excuse they are looking for, a framework for the action in play.  But it's a convenience, a pretext, no more than that.

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I think that "design" means both what game designers do, creating system and often "baked in" situation, and also the work GMs and players do, creating characters, positioning them in the setting, creating opposition and opportunities.  For example, when you sit down to play Cyberpunk 2020 and you say "let's play a team of off-license paramedics scrambling for insurance money!" I think that's an act of design.   And yes, when you as the GM or as a player choose to play out a particular scene rather than not, or choose to apply a particular rules subsystem or not, you're making an aesthetic judgement according to your sense of theme.

I totally agree thast what you decide there is an act of design, and I have on many occassions pointed out the fact that we've done a lot of work on system design, with good reason and results, and relatively little on how the actual game-at-the-table is designed.  Yes indeed, a game about off-license paramedics is going to be very different to a game about mercenary street-samurai.  All of this is true, but that doesn't imply that the resulting appreciation of the game is anything remotely resembling an aesthetic judgement.  It still seems to me that appreciation can be, and is, often located in exploration for its own sake, or in pursuit of challenge.  The presence (or otherwise) of a unifying them to the actually represented action doesn't alter this central purpose of the activity.

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An "overarching theme" is what turns the individual moments of play, the actions of the characters in the world, into a meanigful story.  I mean "meaningful" in the most basic sense, as in "able to be understood".  The events of play are no longer just "things happening" but rather events in a narrative. 

Which of course begs the question, why should the output be story at all?  Why is a "narrative" a necessary outcome?  A lot of my play has had no narrative, never resembled story in any sense.  As mentioned previously, I do see utility in importing some elements of story and narrative structure for various purposes, but it simply cannot be said that that the purpose of play was the creation of a story.  It is evident that for story, anything that doesn't contribute to and drive that story forward  should be cut, but I would contend this is wholly inimical to sim play.  If the purpose of play is primarily exploration, then many incidents in play may be interesting to the participants without having any pertinence whatsoever to any alleged or presumed story.  When asked why he climbed Everest, Mallory replied "Because it's there".  I think that alone is sufficient to make experience of the IS meaningful.

Some elements of theme may be useful as Techniques, but I cannot see how it can be claimed that it is necessary.  Your argument keeps coming back to the ideas of story and judgement, which are precisely the elements which make it unconvincing for me.    You're imposing something which is central to narr as a universal good applicable to all of RPG.  I don't think this is at all true.  Time and again, RPG's have been built on things like Tolkien or Star Wars not because players were particularly interested in telling stories in those settings, but because they wanted to immerse themselves, or more precisely re-immerse themselves, into that setting.  They're interested, essentially, for the toys and the cool colour.  None of this is necessary or indeed particularly relevent to theme or premise; the narratives of these properties could easily be reproduced in other settings.  That's just not what drives the interest for many people; what drives it is the setting itself.
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