Wednesday, May 11, 2005

GNS Post #1

Not the big essay I had planned, but getting closer.

This post is mirrored at the Forge. Please feel free to respond at either place, although I hope that serious discussion will mostly hit the Forge.

This post is about GNS, in case the titles didn't warn you. If you don't get GNS, you maybe should bone up first. If you don't like GNS, don't say I didn't warn you. Anyone wanting to talk about GNS as a whole, rather than the contents of this post, ought to e-mail me privately.

This is not the big social mode post, nor is it the big humor post, but I think maybe it is working up to it.

GNS, Topics, and Symmetries

I'd like you all to harken back to the ancient and hoary essay GNS and other matters of role-playing theory particularly, the GNS page of that essay, particularly the section about "premises." Ron has specifically asked me not to use the term "premise" wrt to present day talk about that concept, because it conflicts with the modern use of premise as specifically related to Narrativism, and so out of respect for that I want to find a new term of what he is talking about, because I have some things to say about it.

I'm going to propose that we use "topic." The use of this will be something like: "The topic of the game was 'which is more important, friendship or duty?" Note that, wrt Narrativist games, topic is directly equivalent to premise.

Thesis is something about games that are played, not about game texts. If any of y'all talk about game texts, I will kick your ass.

Topic is clearly something about the creative agenda of the game that you are playing. There is no "right answer" to a topic question, the game can be resolved either way. Topics structure how players relate to the game as an activity, a communication between the social contract level and the exploration level, if you will. When I started thinking about it, though, I realized that there is a really deep symmetry in this aspect of them.

While looking at the following, check them out with regard to first, whether they have to do with things that are inside the Exploration level or outside it and, second, whether they are resolved by things that are inside the exploration level or outside of it.

Let's look at some Gamist topics:

Can we play well enough such that our party survives the perils?
Can I score more points than the other players?
Can we make our characters fall in love and live happily ever after, despite the fact that the world is against us?

Gamist topics are, as far as I can tell universally, framed with respect to the players of the game themselves. They are not particularly about the imagined content at all. The key to answering the topic question is the players themsevles. Gamist topics are about whether or not you have the guts and skills to compete and win.

Furthermore, Gamist topics are resolved by the actions of the players themselves. Again, what matters is you, the players, and your own abilities and motivations.

So we can say that a Gamist topic is framed wrt the players, and resolved via the actions of the players.

Now let's look at some Narrativist topics:

Is the life of a friend worth the safety of a community?
Is your duty to your wife greater than your duty to your country?

Narrativist topics, to contrast with Gamist topics, are framed with respect to the explorative content. The concern about wife, the concern about the country -- that's a fictional wife, and a fictional country. What the topic is regarding is definitely part of the exploration level. This is true regardless of any meaning or symbolism it has for the players.

Conversely, Narrativist topics are resolved, like Gamist topics, by the actions and judgments of the players. Is the life of a friend worth the safety of a community? That question is ours to poke at and examine and work around and think through, as players, engaged participants in the game. While what our characters think has an important effect on the explorative content, the most important thing is what we think about what they do.

So we can say that a Narrativist topic is framed wrt the explorative content, and resolve via the actions of the players.

Now, how about a Simulationist topic?

What does it feel like to be a vampire?
What does the King of Four Dragons require me to do?
How do various weapons harm or fail to harm a jabberwock, in specific causal detail?

Simulationist topics, like Narrativist ones, are framed wrt the explorative content -- this is not a real King of Four Dragons, nor are we discussing real vampires. This is totally fictitious content that we are addressing with our play.

But unlike the other CA types, Simulationist topics are also resolved, as much as possible, by the explorative content. It doesn't necessarily matter what we, as players, would "like --" the resolution is left up to the setting material, or internal causality, or something similar. (I think. This is the one I'm most unsure about.)

This is an interesting symmetry, to me. Here are some thoughts:

Is there a category of play where the topic is formed wrt to the players and resolved via the explorative content? I'm thinking "no" but I'm willing to be persuaded.

Are my classifications valid? Is there a type of Gamist play, say, where topic is formed wrt the explorative content? (I don't think so, but I'm just checking.)

Does the equals sign run the other way? If all Gamist play has topics that are framed wrt to the players and resolved via the interests of the players, is all play with a topic that is framed wrt to the players and resolve via the interests of the players Gamist? If not, what does this mean?

Am I just wrong?

Other words for "topic?"

Anything else?


Blogger Brendan said...

There is a game in which the topic is formed by the players and resolved via the content, but it doesn't fit into GNS. It's called literary criticism.

Interesting breakdown. It suggests a 0, 1, 2 scale of immersion (if you consider topic / resolution as binary digits, "players" as 0 and "content" as 1).

10:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think both Gamist and Nar are about the players, and the explorative content is just tools to make that happen. In the case of gamism, it is a strategic question, "Can I/We accomplish X?" while narrativism it's "What do I/We think about X?"

And maybe Sim is just "Let's imagine X".

X in all three cases being imaginative stuff, slanted to mask the appropriate Creative Agenda issue.


12:53 AM  

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