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Author Topic: What is Right to Dream for?  (Read 9593 times)
Simon C
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Posts: 510


« on: March 18, 2010, 02:11:27 PM »

Probably one of the most successful "traditional" games I've played was about seven or eight years ago.  It was a Traveller-inspired home-brew science fiction game.  It went through several iterations, a couple of different game masters (I was one of them for a while), and stretched over a couple of years of weekly play.  The exact situation changed a lot, but the characters were usually some variation on uncrupulous space mercenaries, kicking around in the Galaxy looking for jobs.  I think it's a pretty common setup.  We had a lot of fun play out of the game, fuelled, I think, by a strong shared creative vision of what "good play" looked like.  The system we used shifted constantly, as we attempted to find a system that would adequately match our vision for the game.  What we were looking for, I think, was a system that would give us the right mix of expected and unexpected results.  We wanted things to come out "right", such that the decisions we made for our characters would have logical and consistent consequences.  At the time we called this "realism", but I think what we really wanted was predictability and verismilitude (i.e the ability to match resolution to in-fiction causes).

So, it seems like we had a pretty coherant creative agenda, in the sense that we knew what we wanted (even if we didn't always know how to get it).  Until recently I would have been super comfortable calling this agenda "Right to Dream", on the basis that we had this shared vision of the setting and a lot of play was about affirming the "rightness" of this vision.

But I've been thinking a lot recently.  Luke Crane said a thing about how all roleplaying games have a moral dimension.  At first I didn't really see how this was a useful insight into play, but as I play more, and having designed a couple of games and seeing what works and what doesn't, I'm coming around to his point of veiw.  The question I'm coming to is this:

Are "Right to Dream" and "Step on Up" useful descriptors of play? I'm not arguing about whether they do exist or whether they can exist, I'm asking if they're a useful way of thinking about games. 

Going back to my example of play.  It seems to me now a far more powerful explanatory variable to think of this game in Story Now terms, as a game with a strong central theme that informed play.  That theme was something like "How does a person make their way in an indifferent universe?" Many things start to make sense in the game viewed through this lens.  Our insistance on predictability but also randomness in resolution, our desire for PCs to be no different from NPCs in the view of the rules.  Our "you make your choices, and you live with the consequences" ideal of play.

A good example of this last was a moment in game when a player chose to pilot the spacecraft through an asteroid belt at high speeds.  As GM, I laid out the possibilities.  A skill roll would be required.  Bad things would happen if they failed.  They rolled a 1.  I explained that they would collide with an asteroid, and that another roll could be made to mitigate the damage.  They rolled another 1.  The spacecraft was destroyed, and all the characters died.  We all loved it.  We were a bit disappointed, but the event, our willingness to let all the characters die, and the whole game come to nothing, affirmed our vision of an uncaring universe.

So I think that seeing this game as an exploration of Premise makes a heck of a lot of sense.  But if this game is Story Now, what's left for Right to Dream? Thinking back, I can work out a premise for all my successful play.  Now maybe I'm post-hoc justifying myself, and making those past games fit with my current preferences, but I don't think so.  Maybe I've just never played Right to Dream, and so I can't imagine what it looks like?

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Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2010, 03:03:54 PM »

Hi Simon,

There may have been a premise there, but was it integral to the fun your group was having? Or was it more like a garnish?

I'm inclined to think that game sessions actually have a set of priorities rather than just one agenda. So you could have a first priority sim, second priority nar and third (or fourth?) priority gamism game. Indeed some of the essays refer to riddle of steel as having a sim 'spine', which means it supports things, but it doesn't come first. But to note, the current GNS essays don't describe a priority system - I'm just putting that idea out there myself.

I mean, you might also be able to think of a point in the campaign where you did a clever move or someone else did and you acknowledged it at the table - not your character making a clever move, but you, the player. But that doesn't make it gamist play either. Not primarily gamist, anyway. That's my take. This sort of thing has cropped up with Capes play as well, where since it has alot of currency strategising and even payoff, it seems confused on whether its a nar or gamist game session.
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contracycle
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« Reply #2 on: March 18, 2010, 06:01:54 PM »

Yeah, I don't think this is exceptional for sim.  But it doesn't look like Story Now.  Sure meaning can be atrributed to events, they can validate your sense of the experience of play, of the purpose, but thats not really creating morally signifcant, premise adressing moments right there in front of you.  I don't think Sim means a complete absense of meaning anyway.
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Jeff B
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Posts: 35


« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2010, 06:33:28 PM »

Simon,

I think you present mainly two questions:

1. Was the campaign you described an example of Right to Dream, or was it Story Now?
2. Are the expressions "step on up" and "right to dream" useful descriptors of play.

1) My opinion is that you were describing the strength of Simulationist play (Right to Dream).  Of course, it may have included Narrativist (Story Now) content and activity, but the part you're talking about seems like Simulationist to me. A key element is wanting reasonable predictability (but not total predictability) in the dice system -- you wanted some consistency in the game and a good chance of having the game system support the story and actions of the players.  If I have understood Ron's essay on Simulationist Gaming correctly, that is classic Right to Dream stuff.  The great thing is, you had a whole group wanting to share that simulation. 

You consider whether that story-sense is actually Story Now instead.  In terms of GNS theory, you are perhaps confusing Story with Setting.  What you had was great Setting, in which great story could take place of course.  But the setting enabled by the simulation is what really made things move for you.

2) I wonder this myself.  It took me quite a while to understand why these expressions were applied to the styles of play.  I believe now that I understand the intent, but I'm not 100% convinced that they are the best descriptors.  It was Vincent Baker's spin on the concepts that helped things finally fall into place for me.  To paraphrase his paraphrasing, regarding the three styles of play:

A. Player wants to Prove something (Gamist)
B. Player wants to Say something (Narrative)
C. Player wants to Be There (Simulationist)

I found these more meaningful than the descriptors like "Step on Up".  I also wonder if Narrativist and Gamist aren't both merely different expressions of "Step on Up", and if "Setting Now" wouldn't be more appropriate than "Right to Dream" for Simulationist play.  While some might say that Setting is a component of Scene, I'm of the opinion that the game system acts as a meta-setting, in which other settings (those associated with scenes) can be portrayed.

A fondly-remembered RPG campaign is a many-splendored thing!
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Simon C
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« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2010, 06:36:02 PM »

I'm not trying to say "I don't think this was Right to Dream".  I'm really not invested in diagnosing the game as a particular agenda.

I think my point is more that calling it Right to Dream doesn't give me any tools for examining play, working out what the fun parts were, and finding out how to make other games similarly fun.  Treating it as if it were Story Now, and looking at the premise of play, does give me those tools.  It's more useful to me to ignore Right to Dream as a thing, and just treat all my play as Story Now for the purpose of examining my play.

In other words: Cool.  It's Right to Dream.  What use is that to me?
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Jeff B
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Posts: 35


« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2010, 08:45:40 PM »


GNS is a tool for dialogue and investigation into the nature of roleplaying and the goals of players.  If you can only think of it in terms of "how this benefits Simon's game now", you're likely to miss much of the value.

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Simon C
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Posts: 510


« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2010, 08:59:19 PM »

Hi Jeff,

I hate to be all "argument from authority" on you, but I feel like I understand GNS pretty well, and I've read a lot of discussions of roleplaying that reference GNS.  I've got a fair amount of experience in which conversations about roleplaying games are productive and useful, and which ones aren't.

I'm not intending this thread to be a discussion of what the theory says (though obviously if I'm saying the theory says something it doesn't, that's useful to know).  I'm saying that what the theory says isn't useful with regards to Right to Dream.  We have a lot of very useful tools for understanding Story Now play, and what I'm saying is that these tools are useful for understanding Right to Dream play as well, which leaves me wondering what the Right to Dream label is for.

Can anyone give me a good explanation of why it's useful?
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2010, 09:17:13 PM »

Hi Simon,

Thinking about "Right to Dream" gets me asking questions like:

1) Are all participants fully enabled to make meaningful creative contributions?  Do their contributions get interacted with and appreciated?  If not, why not -- do they have no means, or are they unaware of the means they do have?

2) Are all participants on the same page about our frame of reference for what's important and inviolate in the fiction-making?  Do we care more about style (e.g. noir), genre (e.g. horror), process (e.g. physics), interactions (e.g. teamwork + bickering), or specific emulation/twists (e.g. X-Files meets Lord of the Rings in Iceland)?  If we're not on the same page, how do we rectify that?

3) Is our process of "playing right" and meeting our aesthetic goals smooth and effortless, or demanding and distracting?  If the latter, why?

I can't really compare these questions to your "useful tools for understanding Story Now play", as I'm not sure what those are.

This thread discusses how "Right to Dream" functions as an agenda.  It contains some good explanations from Ron of his concept, and some good illustrations from me about how it applies to a specific instance of play.

Hope this is useful,
-David
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Motipha
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Posts: 43


« Reply #8 on: March 19, 2010, 08:23:00 AM »

While not the most versed in the model, perhaps I might make a few points.

When used as analytical tools, the creative agenda's really just outline how tools are applied, or to what purpose, rather than what tools are available.  So to say "In terms of Right to Dream, what can we say about this campaign" you would probably do a similar type of analysis, just to a different end.

Or, perhaps:  rather than "Man, I really did enjoy creating a story about a man surviving in an indifferent universe" the result would be "Wow, I really dug exploring what it means to be a man surviving in an indifferent universe."  Or maybe that Story Now analysis shows how the game helped or hindered the players in creating compelling elements/ideas/encounters.  In contrast Right to Dream analysis shows how the game helped or hindered in creating a living breathing environment in which the players found or explored compelling elements/ideas/encounters.

The questions themselves would be different I guess.  In terms of premise, the question would be "Does this set of rules and the situation that it models actual express the premise we wish to play such that actions taken within it felt right" rather than "Did the premise get expressed through the events of the story in such a way that satisfied our desire to see the premise in action."

The example you give seems to suggest that what your group sound so satisfying about the game was the sense that "accurately" or "realistically" portrayed a world.  Because the game provided an acceptable and stable environment in which your game was played, you guys were willing and eager to enter that world, and able to explore the stories that take place in that world.  So the analysis of that game might easily be about what made that world such a good environment for telling those stories, both thematically and structurally, rather than what was so compelling about those stories themselves.  You could even say those stories were so good because they did express the environment that was being simulated, rather than the environment representing what those stories were about.

Gah, I'm not sure if I'm making any sense.  But I'm sure I had a point in there somewhere.
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FredGarber
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Posts: 95


« Reply #9 on: March 19, 2010, 10:11:24 AM »

Hi Jeff,

I hate to be all "argument from authority" on you, but I feel like I understand GNS pretty well, and I've read a lot of discussions of roleplaying that reference GNS.  I've got a fair amount of experience in which conversations about roleplaying games are productive and useful, and which ones aren't.

I'm not intending this thread to be a discussion of what the theory says (though obviously if I'm saying the theory says something it doesn't, that's useful to know).  I'm saying that what the theory says isn't useful with regards to Right to Dream.  We have a lot of very useful tools for understanding Story Now play, and what I'm saying is that these tools are useful for understanding Right to Dream play as well, which leaves me wondering what the Right to Dream label is for.

Can anyone give me a good explanation of why it's useful?

I think looking at your game with a StoryNow frame of mind does give you some useful tools, especially for analyzing the dramatic (little n narrative) elements in your play.
But there are different questions that David posted that pertain to RightToDream play, and they tell you different things.

Asking the RightToDream questions allows you to evaluate the contributions that the players made to the Setting,
Asking the Gamist questions allows you to evaluate the explorations of the players into System.
Asking the StoryNow questions allows you to evaluate the explorations of the players into Character.

Even in, say, a game of PTA or DITV, which are generally understood to be StoryNow games, you can ask the other questions. 
       For example, let's look at my own PtA game of "Switch", where the characters are supernatural creatures living in an urban setting.  Think "Supernatural" from POV of the monsters, except the monsters have souls and free will.  What potential for Moments of Awesome were there and got mised?

Now, I can keep looking for extracting the best StoryNow moments by looking for where the players really got into the "I am not (or I am) a Freak! I am a good person!" Theme of the game.

But I can also look at the game from a StepOnUp perspective, and notice that my players are really bad at remembering to give FanMail, which means they are often really short of cards in the final scenes, since they've blown their Edges earlier.   I've tried blowing more of my Budget in the opening scenes, which means that I would have less in the final scenes too, but that just made the problem worse.  So maybe I can take a couple of moments after each scene, and prompt them to give out FanMail.  Then maybe I can let them stop the flow of scenes to give out FanMail, and eventually the FanMail will start.  That will give them another source for cards, to make them more Effective in later scenes.  Maybe that will make those conflicts at the end less like "Fred decides how things will end up, and more collaborative (which is the idea of the game)

I can also look at the game from a RightToDream perspective, and I notice that J---- adds a lot of details about the "Street" : house parties, and the response time of the cops, and of the off-book ways the characters can make income.  H---- doesn't add a lot of details.  I've already noticed that J--- considers herself an Expert on how the Street works, and doesn't appreciate either me or others introducing things that break her vision of these scenes.  So, maybe I can introduce some scenes in places where H--- is more the Expert, so she can contribute and J----- won't feel the need to 'fact-check' all of H----'s offerings.
>>> However, H---- doesn't seem to care too much about how she can contribute to the Dream, just about her chances to really put her character in between her life as a Normal and her Freak life.  So maybe I don't introduce those scenes, because H won't care. I won't get any Moments of Awesome out of it, because H---- is really into the StoryNow agenda.

Each set of analytical questions allows me to extract look at some of the Moments of Awesome that came out of play (or that could have been, and failed), and if there's anything I can do to advance more of them, or to make sure that the moments that do come aren't Moments of Fail.

-Fred
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #10 on: March 19, 2010, 11:06:00 AM »

I guess there's no non-assholish way of saying it, but there sure are a lot of weird viewpoints on the Big Model floating around here nowadays. I'm nobody to ruin anybody's terminological and theoretical entertainment, but I do suspect that Simon and everybody else would get more out of this thread with less fancy terminology and more transparent language. Simon's central question is not easily considered in concrete terms, but neither is confabulating new meanings for the Big Model terminology very useful; I'd rather see new terms or just plain language rather than incessant reinvention of the same heavily loaded terminology.

(I do realize that I'm just telling everybody to shut up and listen to my infinite wisdom instead - if anybody has a better suggestion of how to approach a thread that seems to be quickly devolving towards weird heterodoxy in how Big Model terminology is used, I'm all ears. On one hand I could just focus on the main issue and ignore the background noise, but on the other hand it's difficult to choose clear words to use when the same terms are being used any which way by other participants of the discussion. So by all means, don't let me ruin the discussion, just remember that I'm not building on the definitions and application expressed in the thread so far in my own answer to Simon.)

I can well understand Simon's fundamental question - exploring the nature and innermost workings of simulationist play is an exciting venue for many reasons, one of them being that we have less firm theoretical understanding of what happens in the agenda than we (Forge theory geeks collectively, I mean) have for narrativist or gamist play. When you say that categorizing a game experience as simulationistic is not actually useful, I think I understand what you mean: if we said that an instance was narrativistic, say, then we could formulate a clear picture of what each player's duties and goals in play seem like moment-to-moment. The same goes for gamism, we understand the viewpoint an individual player brings to the moment of play. Do we have this sort of understanding for a simulationistic case? I've played highly functional and fun simulationistic sessions, I think, but I have to confess that on my own part I wouldn't pretend to any deep understanding of the creative processes and motivations that go into it; definitely not when I compare to the way I understand and appreciate advocation-based narrativism or adventure model gamism or other such generic Creative Agenda frameworks. I might say that I can appreciate and successfully play powerful simulationistic games like Dread, Dead of Night or Time and Temp, but I couldn't really create such a game - or rather, I suspect that I could, and I have some things in my desk draver, but I've yet to formulate any firm and verbalized internal model of how simulationism "works" in any game I've played or am in the process of writing. Would you say that this is what you're after here, Simon? The idea that we do not, generally speaking, have quite the depth of perception and vocabulary on simulationism that we do with narrativism and gamism, and therefore categorizing an individual play experience as one of the latter is attractive simply because even ill-fitting data can be more comprehensively analysed by using the tools that exist for these other modes?

For what it's worth, Simon, I think that it's entirely believable to come to the conclusion that all of your roleplaying has, generally speaking, been narrativistic. I do not say this of you specifically, but as a general observation: many roleplayers have only ever experienced one Creative Agenda (while some haven't even gotten the one to work well). This causes obvious comparative difficulties in classifying play experiences, as it's pretty difficult to recognize something without prior context. The AP context you provide could believably be either simulationistic or narrativist, I think - I for one would be like a hound on prey on a nihilistic, cold space scifi narrativistic-realist roleplaying game with the premise you postulate, so I find it entirely believable that that might have been what you were about in this case. But then again, I could easily see the opposite case as well, it all depends on the actual focus of the players at the time; I know that I've myself played simulationistic games that have ended in a total party kill along the lines you describe.

Still, as you yourself said there, the specific CA categorization of your play experience is not really the point here, but rather: even if this is simulationism, is that useful for us as an analysis outside of sticking a label on it? Can we say something useful about simulationism, perhaps in the context of Traveller play? Do we actually have any understanding of simulationism beyond knowing it when we see it (or, as some say, knowing it by the absense of other agendas)? Perhaps something that would be useful in constructing new simulationistic games?

This is an interesting question and I might have some thoughts on it. I'll stop here for now, though - do tell me if I've phrased the central issue clearly, Simon! Also, if anybody actually has understanding of the internal framework of simulationism, something concrete and useful, I'd love to hear about it myself. I'll write a bit about how simulationistic games I know function and cause simulationistic fun in a bit, assuming I'm not just full of shit with my paraphrasing of the question.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #11 on: March 19, 2010, 02:23:28 PM »

We have a lot of very useful tools for understanding Story Now play, and what I'm saying is that these tools are useful for understanding Right to Dream play as well
Are they? To me you've applied story now tools to understand a 'garnish' that comes with your play, not the heart of your play.

So I'm skeptical story now tools are really examining your campaign directly. I mean, you can tell me that they are, and I can't think of any method of proving beyond just taking your word for it. But are they?
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contracycle
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« Reply #12 on: March 19, 2010, 03:56:45 PM »

I'd pretty much agree that we have very few tools for examining sim play, in the way that we have for Narr, but that doesn't suggest the category is not useful.  There's no getting away from the fact that it is a form of play with different interests.  I'm somewhat sympathetic to the idea that there might be a few things you can say of sim by analogy to insights about narr, but you would have to keep in mind that they are by analogy and not directly applicable.

Sure the state of the art for sim play wanders somewhat in the wilderness.  Quite naturally, perhaps, the excitement of exploring narr overtook examination of a style that was in some ways fairly well known.  I've proposed some concepts myself - imposition, alienation, didactism - but they have not gained much in the way of support and opportunity to discuss them is few and far between.  We have not invested that much time in it at all; and we have fewer proponents of the style now than we used to, and so discussion is even less likely to break out.
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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
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Jeff B
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« Reply #13 on: March 19, 2010, 06:21:49 PM »

Eero, if you're going to criticize the discussion method, you need to be specific.  Right now your just casting a blanket accusation over everyone in the thread of misusing Big Model language, and then continuing on to speak in very large, dense words about something that may or may not be on topic.  If your goal is to clear communication, the attempt is backfiring.

That, combined with Simon's periodic re-structuring of his original question, is rapidly making this thread moot.  It now appears the original post was simply a request by Simon for someone else (anyone else) to do more work on Simulationism, so that he can reap the benefit of that research.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #14 on: March 19, 2010, 06:47:14 PM »

You are no doubt correct, Jeff - however, knowing that Fred's characterization of GNS theory in particular sounds weird to me isn't too pertinent for this thread, is it? I just wanted to draw attention to the fact that theory terminology is being mangled here - perhaps unnecessarily, when plain language would suffice - before engaging the actual topic. The basics of GNS can always be handled in detail in another thread if there is interest, there's no reason for me to start nitpicking about it in this thread. Let's rather hear more from Simon, I'm interested in whether I've understood his topical thrust correctly.
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