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Author Topic: What is Right to Dream for?  (Read 10276 times)
Simon C
Member

Posts: 510


« Reply #60 on: March 25, 2010, 03:58:41 PM »

Quote
You seem to be arguing that Sim should be downgraded to merely being a subset of Narr, and that Narr is "true" roleplaying.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  It would be more accurate to say that what I'm trying to do is show that there's no kind of play that occupies a special and unique position.  There are just themes, and techniques for realising those themes. 

Quote
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.

Why are they interested in that setting? You seem to be saying that for people who want this kind of play, one setting is as good as another.  But my experience is the opposite. People are interested in experiencing a particular setting, for a particular reason.

Furthermore, if the purpose of play is internal consistency and causality, why are these people roleplaying? Aren't there better places to observe and experience that in, for example, real life?

There is a reason that people are interested in experiencing and interacting with a particular setting, and I think that is because the setting is meaningful to them.  Meaningful means theme.

Perhaps a more useful word that theme would be "metanarrative"?
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2984


« Reply #61 on: March 25, 2010, 04:26:18 PM »

Nothing could be further from the truth.  It would be more accurate to say that what I'm trying to do is show that there's no kind of play that occupies a special and unique position.  There are just themes, and techniques for realising those themes. 

I'm not sure that's really a rebuttal.

Quote
Why are they interested in that setting? You seem to be saying that for people who want this kind of play, one setting is as good as another.  But my experience is the opposite. People are interested in experiencing a particular setting, for a particular reason.

Because it's got lightsabres, or elves, or whatever.  Becuase it is interesting in any number of ways that happens to grab them.  For me, a strong draw is historicism, exploring the different ways in which different societies have lived.

Quote
Furthermore, if the purpose of play is internal consistency and causality, why are these people roleplaying? Aren't there better places to observe and experience that in, for example, real life?

Because real life has neither lightsabres nor elves.  Because the control implicit in RPG allows you to construct your own experiment.  Becuase the feedback from other players can validate or challenge  your own interpretations and conclusions.

Quote
There is a reason that people are interested in experiencing and interacting with a particular setting, and I think that is because the setting is meaningful to them.  Meaningful means theme.

Meaningful, yes.  Theme, as you use it, no.  As I have, I would have thought, quite forcefully made clear, the kind of things which you bundle into theme excite no interest in me whatsoever.  Sure it's meaningful, it's meaningful as a representation of an environment which is alien and interesting, something worthy of exploration.  That has nothing to do with story or narrative.

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Perhaps a more useful word that theme would be "metanarrative"?

No.  A setting is just a setting - any number of stories could be told within it, assuming that telling stories is what interests you.  You can maybe make the case, tenuously, that there is an implicit metanarrative for the properties prebviously mentioned, but if you look at an established sim game like L5R it seems pretty clear that the prime draw is the setting and colour: tools and weapons, clothing, different ideas of social good and right behaviour, even right thought.  No doubt story of the type you describe can be constructed in such a game, and the text certainly attempts to encourage that, but I'd confidently bet that that what attracts people is its other-culturalness.  And for many people, that is quite enough.
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Simon C
Member

Posts: 510


« Reply #62 on: March 25, 2010, 06:18:59 PM »

We seem to be getting to a point where I'm saying "I think it's like this" and you're saying "no it's not it's like this", and we've given our arguments for why we think that's the case.  I think maybe any further discussion is just going to be us restating the same opinions more emphatically. 

How about you keep using the terminology you like, I'll keep talking about games the way I like, and we hope it's not too confusing?
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2984


« Reply #63 on: March 25, 2010, 07:30:21 PM »

Well of course.  You're entirely free to coin your own iconoclastic terminology or develop a personal point of view.  Neither I nor anyone else can prevent you from doing so.  That said, you would presumably not have begun a thread to discuss the point unless it was your intention to make your case more generally.  Furthermore, this being a public discussion, you can't then demand that your argument be priviliged and protected from counter-arguments or illustrations of (what I see as) its weaknesses or incompleteness.

I'm quite struck by your inability to respond to my description of my own experience of play.  I'm not sure what that means, but for your position to hold one of two things must be true: either I don't play as I describe, or I'm not actually capable of reporting my own experience of play.  Neither is a proposition I'm likely to accept any time soon.

And that underlines the problem with the premise of your argument, the essential unity and likeness of all RPG play.  As a historical artifact, GNS arises from the Threefold Model of r.g.fa, which itself arose from the fact that when gamers were introduced to direct contact with one another through the internet, it rapidly became clear that everyone certainly did not share a common idea of how RPG should be done and what constituted good and bad play.  That is to say, both the Threefold and later GNS are attempts to grapple with the observable fact that people do not all play the same way.  This split in opinions is not something that GNS proposes, it is something that both models have attempted to reconcile into a comprehensible framework.

You claim that the distinction that GNS makes between forms of play is a distraction, but I suggest that this is a faulty perception.  Theme does not IMO offer the same explanatory power.  A given group might play games 1, 2 and 3 with themes A, B and C, but then that helps us not at all with what makes these games, played by this group, similar to each other and distinct from those played by another group.  Either groups have set of universal themes which they always apply - in which case theme simply becomes a rephrasing of GNS - or theme is independent from play style, as the current view would have it.  Your theme-based concept does not, to my mind, sufficiently explain either this similarity between instances of play, or differences between groups.

Consider, you propose the very decision to play 2000AD implies a theme of some sort.  But it seems to me, one could detach 2000AD and its setting of the 5th Mech Inf bogged down in Poland and write a Sim game, a Narr game, and a Gam game that all made use of the same setting and the same theme.  Doesn't that seem plasible enough?

(And incidentally, Frank and Simon, I was around in 2001, and on r.g.f.a before that.)
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Simon C
Member

Posts: 510


« Reply #64 on: March 25, 2010, 09:23:28 PM »

It certainly is my intention to make my case more generally.  I was just suggesting that the discussion was getting into point-by-point rebuttals which I don't think are good for productive dialogue (and are also specifically disapproved of on this forum), and maybe it would be better if it was carried on by other people.

Regarding your desription of your experience of play, I think that you're missing my point more than I'm missing yours.  Presumably, the experience of play is meaningful to you.  Forget any GNS implications of the words I'm using here.  As a human being, you construct meaning by producing narratives.  By narrative, I mean a series of events put in a sequence.  Like, "This happened, then this happened".  I want you to understand that narratives don't just happen, they're constructed by us.  Narratives are sensible to us (i.e. we are able to make sense of them), they become more than just "things happening", because they refer to cultural metanarratives, to "deep structures" to quote Levi Strauss, or "grammar of narrative" (Barthes and Greimas).  I'm calling that "theme".  I hate to be all "argument from authority" with those references, but I want to make it clear that what I'm suggesting isn't my own crackpot theory, it's how (some) people understand the process of human understanding. I think it's a compelling and useful way of understanding this.

Quote
Consider, you propose the very decision to play 2000AD implies a theme of some sort.  But it seems to me, one could detach 2000AD and its setting of the 5th Mech Inf bogged down in Poland and write a Sim game, a Narr game, and a Gam game that all made use of the same setting and the same theme.  Doesn't that seem plausible enough?

Yes, I propose that the decision to play 2000AD implies one or more themes.  There are many different techniques for handling those themes, some collections of those techniques will look like what gets called Story Now, and other collections of techniques will look like what gets called Right to Dream.  Those techniques will affect the theme of the game, and how it feels to play.  It's possible that one game will focus on one theme strongly, and all the moments of play will be relevant to that theme.  The other game might focus on a number of themes, and have large portions of play that don't strongly reference one of those themes.  That's a thing that happens, and it's how some people like to play.  I'm not saying that it's a thing that doesn't happen, I'm saying it's a quantitative, rather than qualitative difference.

So yeah, people play differently.  I argue that it's a difference in techniques to adress themes, and a difference in the kinds of theme that are preferred in play.

What makes something worthy of exploration? What's cool about lightsabres? What do you find interesting about the different ways societies have lived?
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 997


« Reply #65 on: March 25, 2010, 10:31:18 PM »

Here's a little thought experiment, that I hope will illustrate some common ground:

I dig lightsabers.  I might pick up, buy, and sit down to play a game because it has lightsabers.  So then we play, and I want to enjoy my lightsaber.  Part of this might be asking the GM how it works and what it looks like, and maybe trying to build my own.  Maybe everyone else in my group feels the same way, and we have a lively and exciting session!  Maybe the next session we do the same with Star Destroyers! 

But this can't go on for too long, can it?  I mean, I've never heard of a group actually maintaining shared interest and excitement in this sort of unchallenged exploring and learning.  I guess it might be possible, if the GM was really adept at hooking curiosity, and then milking it, and creating suspense over the ultimate reveal.  But I've never seen it, nor heard of it.

Usually what happens is that I want to do something with my lightsaber.  Why did I like it in the first place?  Probably because I liked the idea of waving it around and looking badass.  But to look badass, you need an audience, right?  And you don't know how they'll respond.  So now you have a goal, and some uncertainty.  Maybe this goal is trivially easily met, but then I probably want to form another goal.  "Now that the PCs agree I look cool waving this blade around, I bet I'll look really cool killing stormtroopers!"

In theory, this could continue indefinitely as pure wish fulfillment.  "You kill stormtroopers!  Describe how awesome it looks!"  But, again, I've never seen that.  I suspect it's a social dynamic issue.  What's the likelihood of a few friends wanting to all learn about Star Destroyers and live out lightsaber-waving fantasies together, and really appreciating each other's contributions?

Maybe there are 2-person games that work this way, where a single character-player asks and performs, and a single GM answers and gives audience approval.  I guess that could be fun.  But it'd clearly be an extreme outlier for our hobby, right?

What normally happens is conflict.  You can't always just get what you want, at least not without some uncertainty and struggle.  And once you have that, you have narrative.  "Want, try, fail, try again, succeed, celebrate" is narrative.  And, as with any narrative, you have the option to view it in terms of theme.  At this end of the play spectrum, thinking about theme probably isn't terribly useful.  But who knows?  You might not have to go very far into the conflicts of characters played by real people before some narrative adds up to resonate with the real people's real lives.

It seems at least plausible that a certain degree of human familiarity and relevance might be more conducive to a shared group endeavor than educational touring or living out wishes.  And, y'know, maybe that gets more conducive with a little theme-nurturing.

Personally, most of the exploration-of-setting type games I've played in have gotten boring when the characters weren't also pursuing goals that the players were jazzed about.

Ps,
-Dave

P.S. I am not claiming this says anything about GNS.

P.P.S. Simon, I'd like to continue discussing types of thematic influence in play, but I'm not sure if this thread's the place.
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Simon C
Member

Posts: 510


« Reply #66 on: March 26, 2010, 12:10:21 AM »

Dave,

That sort of thing is exactly what I want to be talking about, and arguing about semantics and shit is exactly what I don't want to talk about.  I seem to keep letting myself be drawn into those arguments though.

I would be an enthusiastic participant in a new thread if you started one, or you're welcome to keep posting it here.

Needless to say, I agree completely with your characterisation of play.  That sounds like something I've done too.
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2984


« Reply #67 on: March 26, 2010, 08:38:02 AM »

Simon, although I have some quibbles, I don't have any particular objections to the arguments articulated by the writers you mention, but I still think you're confusing applications.  Essentially you seem to be imposing the process of understanding story onto the process of drawing insight from experience.  David, I think, highlights precisely what I think is a mistake when he asserts that if you have conflict you automatically have narrative.  That is true IN STORIES, it's not true of practical experience of reality.  If I get randomly mugged in the street, I may well go on to locate that experience in some broader narrative about what I think about society and modern life, but I can also just go, "huh, shit happens".  Likewise if I slash my finger wihile slicing an onion.  There is no need to apply social narratives to such prosaic events in order to understand them.

You ask what it is about historical societies that interests me, and it's specifically the point that their metanarratives are not ours.  Their perceptions of their world and the logic which governs it is not identical to those with which we are familiar, not because of any inherent difference in psychology or physiology but because of the social constructs which surround people.  For my purposes, then, interpreting events in the light of my, modern, metanarratives is counterproductive - what I want to do is learn and internalise theirs.  This is the point at which mechanics enter - the mechanics themselves attach logic and consequences to certain actions which endows them with a meaning that probably would not have naturally arisen in my mind, aculturated as it is to modernity.

You propose that the selection of Twilight2000 as a setting implies selection of theme.  But doing that, having a sort of theme-before, would totally defeat the purpose from my point of view.  If there is something, a schema, which endows action with meaning to be derived from this setting, then it is a schema I wish to discover in play.  As I've already pointed out upthread, if theme is to be a meaningful term when applied to this sort of play, it can only be something that arises from play itself and is only understood post facto, and if you can even be bothered to distill it out of the action.  So I think your assertion that the selection of setting implies theme is groundless.

David, you say that ""Want, try, fail, try again, succeed, celebrate" is narrative" but I think you are making an erroneous normative statement here.  That is indeed a common structure of narrative, that doesnt mean that all actions are automatically narrative.  So yes, absolutely, games like this are powered by conflict, by goals about which the players are jazzed.  But they are jazzed through the prism of the character and the mechanics.  It is absolutely the case, as I have also already pointed out upthread, that I think this sort of game can indeed make use of some aspects of narrative structure to avoid certain pitfalls of this style of play.  But thats a long way from saying that because of the utility of these concepts as tools, the fundamental nature of the activity has become story-like.
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Motipha
Member

Posts: 43


« Reply #68 on: March 26, 2010, 01:19:05 PM »

So, I'm wondering what you gain by removing GNS.  Yes, you now talk about games in terms of a unified continuum, but what does that actually afford you?

Let me explain.  I'm not arguing that Simon is incorrect in his underlying premise, that all game can (should?) be described in terms of the premise, narrative, metanarrative, theme or whatever descriptor you want to assign to it.  But what does it get you to identify or focus solely on that level of the game?  I've always seen the Big Model theory as being useful for providing us a set of tools of analysis by which we can talk about games meaningfully.  By saying that I enjoy playing Story Now, I'm providing a description of how I enjoy gaming.  Same thing with Right to Dream or Step on Up.  Regardless of what the deep, underlying arcs or premises of the game session, by using those terms I'm saying something about HOW I want to approach the game.  It tells me which techniques and stylistic choices I am more likely to enjoy, or less. 

Removing those terms doesn't seem to win me anything.  Perhaps this is because I don't see the three categories as being ABSOLUTELY mutually exclusive, and perhaps thats part of where I tweak Eero's alarm at theory heterodoxy.  For myself, I am coming more and more to realise that I have much more Right to Dream motivation than I thought I did (in part because of this thread and the exploration it has sent me on) while I still believe my greatest interest is towards Story Now.  But I can talk and identify different play preferences of my own and my groups because I have terminology and referents that highlight significant difference.

I just don't see what you get by dismantling that framework.  Yes, you can talk about things in terms of phatic versus engaging themes.  But now you are asking people who do not see things in those terms (and to whom those terms are intensely disinteresting) to reframe their perspective in those terms that seem explicitly contrary to what they enjoy.  And more to the point, I don't think you could use those terms to really talk about play in a way that would work for them, regardless of how you interpret the nature of their play:  If it doesn't jibe with their own interaction, and doesn't provide a way for them to identify and work with what they want in a game that is at least as useful as what the Big Model provides, then it provides less material for productive discourse.  What use is it for me to talk about the thematic nature of the right-of-passage events of my characters play when I at no time, while playing or thinking "this would be fun" ever did or wanted to address that directly?  Just because it was a cool thing I realised about the game after the fact doesn't mean I would have had mroe fun playing towards that, rather than towards my own perceived goals of constructive denial and simulationism, or whatever my Right to Dream style happens to be.

So, recapping one more time.  GNS theory provides you a method of analyizing and describing games.  Are you claiming that the model provides no benefit to discussion that is not covered by simply talking in terms of following premise and theme, and is in fact hurting discussion by making false distinctions?

Or perhaps I just don't buy in to "what is roleplaying all about" as a universal.
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #69 on: March 26, 2010, 02:21:29 PM »

Hey Contracycle, I can't tell if we're actually disagreeing here.  I'm just saying that once there's conflict we have the option to think in terms of theme, and that maybe doing so helps people play well together.

When I said "...then we have narrative" I just meant that we have the raw material for a story.  The potential is there.  I'm not saying we must realize it.  Just that we often do, and maybe there are good reasons for that.

Maybe I'm misusing the word "narrative"...

I totally hear you on experiencing an alternate reality without the filter of a familiar paradigm.  But I have no idea whether that means no theme, weird theme, familiar theme, or says nothing about theme at all.  In some ways, stripping away familiar context can pare priorities down to the basic concerns of sentient beings (as far we understand those), which could be a thematic goldmine if a play group was so disposed.  If you have a good AP example, I'd love to discuss it in a new thread.
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2984


« Reply #70 on: March 27, 2010, 04:52:19 AM »

I certainly agree we have that option, but I don't agree with what I see as a the prime assertion in this thread, that translating in-game events into narrative story is an inevitable and fundamental function of play.  I'm not ruling out the possibility that a series of in-fiction events, when recounted or remembered, will tend to be structured in a story-like way, just as an experience of the real world would be structured if recounted.  But we do not actually experience reality in that form; storytelling is an art because it is NOT just a bare recounting of What Happened, but is so constructed as to be entertaining.

Entertaining in this sense must, so LitCrit has it, contain some element of personal and moral relevance.  Fine, I can buy that, not least because the audience is passive.  Seeing as the audience is NOT involved in creating anything, NOT involved in doing or saying or even, really, thinking, the payoff they get for sitting there for 2 hours or whatever, and which an artist must deliver, is that the production they then passively consume contains personal relevance.

But when playing in RPG, just as when, say, performing tricks on a snowboard or building a model yacht, the person executing the task can be fully engaged with the task.  The task does not need to be imbued with narrative, with moral philosphy, with assertions about constants of human nature.  None of that is needed as the payoff, because the task is itself the payoff.  It's not excluded as the payoff either, I hasten to add, but it's not necessary.

I had a good experience in which I could say I learned something in a game of V:tM.  What I learned had nothing to do with the human condition or anything along those lines, but I found it interesting.  V:TM doesn't get enough love, IMO, not least becuase it bills itself as a game about those issues of human condition, but I approached it in a very different way: via the trope of a "secret world", a conspiracy-type concept.  It fails as a game that wants to address proper Narr, but as a Sim game, which is what it really is, in the hands of Sim players, it worked more than well enough (concerns about system aside).  In one of the few games in which I can answer your question from the players perespective, I played as the Prince of a city, not something I planned but which the GM dumped on me.  Fair enough, I was up for it.  In the canon, a Prince makes certain demands of people entering their territory, namely to report in and request permission to feed, which is amostly a pro forma thing.  It happens becuase the Prince needs to keep track of how many vampires are in the city and what impact their feeding has on the human population, so they can keep things under wraps.  What I discovered in play is that this isn't enough.  Due to the action of the plot, I was aware not only of the arrivals of itinerant vampires from various places who checked in, but also that there members of the population who had gone missing.  This poses a problem; I can't asses the impact of feeding if I don't know whether someone is still here, is dead, or has left etc.  As a result, I started getting in contact with the Princes of neighbouring cities to see if they were of so-and-so entering their territory, which would at least firm up my own numbers.

This is not a historical example, but is I think analogous becuase it demonstrates how, by engaging with the problems of fictional people in fictional worlds, you can learn something about them.  It is this principle I am especially interested in extending to historical contexts, although the opportunity is few and far between, not least because of RPG's concentration on OTT magic and kewl powerz and all that jazz, none of which interests me much.  If I played V:tM again as GM, I would certainly incorporate this insight into how I portrayed Princes and their concerns.  Also, being engaged with this sort of thing made me a much more active player, with my own concerns, trying to get certain kinds of things done.  That, too, is an element I'd like to extend.  Sure, when you're wandering from room to room in a dungeon there is no need for that sort of proactivity, or indeed when going from encounter to encounter in a plot.  But when I had ownership over my characters own place in the imaginary world, stuff to do and worry about appeared organically.

I found all of this interesting and entertaining.  I really can't say that any of this impinged upon what Simon descibes as themes of human concern; they were procedural and practical.  But they were more than enough to sustain engaging play, and it is one of the games I remember most fondly.
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 997


« Reply #71 on: March 27, 2010, 11:09:51 AM »

What did the other players do while you were figuring out how to be an effective Prince?
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2984


« Reply #72 on: March 27, 2010, 11:41:21 AM »

They were my assistants, so I sent them to do stuff, find out things, etc.  Plus, because I was self-driven, I didn't take uo a lot of the GM's time, and he could therefore use a lot of it on personal plots for them.  Probably a fair bit of what they did may have gone against my wishes, but it was coinducted between them and the GM.  In addition, there was a conventional plot uniting the characters; as mentioned, this was not initially built as a game intended to have a PC prince.
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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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David Berg
Member

Posts: 997


« Reply #73 on: March 27, 2010, 11:53:42 AM »

Ah, interesting.  So they got to kind of act as your extended senses and the instruments of your experiments while you were learning how to be a good Prince?  So that kept you interested in what they were doing?  Presumably, they weren't just interested in helping you be a better Prince.  So the shared fun seems contingent on the stuff they were interested in doubling as Prince-intel.  Is that correct?

I'm looking for alternatives to human concerns / themes as far as glue that keeps people interested in each other's play.  So I'm curious about whether your Prince stuff was a weird, momentary aberration, or something sustainable.
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #74 on: March 27, 2010, 12:25:37 PM »

Gareth,

I think further specific discussion of this V:tM game may derail a thread that may be winding down to conclusion.. But I find myself very interested in further discussion and dissection of it, and it appears that maybe David is as well. Would you be willing to start another thread to talk about this?
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
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