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[Theory] Creative Agendas: What are gamism, narrativism, and simulationism?

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  • [Theory] Creative Agendas: What are gamism, narrativism, and simulationism?

    A creative agenda is a set of priorities, motivations, and attitudes which players at a role-playing game table may have with regard to the game they're playing. Successful play groups often, though not always, share a common creative agenda. Originally described by game designer and theorist Ron Edwards, the creative agenda is a component of the Big Model, a theory of game design and play originating from a now-defunct RPG forum called the Forge.

    Gamism is a creative agenda in which players emphasize competition, triumph over risk, and fair play. Gamist play shares certain priorities and attitudes with play in athletic competitions or board and card games.

    Narrativism is a creative agenda in which players emphasize character choice and emotional drama: story arcs, character development, and thematic evocation. Narrativist play prioritizes many story elements which you might discuss in a high-school or college literature class: plot, climax, conflict, catharsis, that kind of thing.

    Simulationism is a creative agenda in which players emphasize the consistency and coherence of their shared fiction: defining and adhering to the nature of the world and its societies, the laws of magic, or the fine points of combat, for example. Simulationist play often prioritizes immersion (promoting the out-of-character illusion that one is experiencing the in-character world) and extensive world-building.

    One common misconception about creative agendas is that they describe games, rather than players. According to the original usage of the term, only players (and more commonly, groups of players) can be gamist, narrativist, or simulationist. It might be fair to say that certain role-playing games facilitate one agenda rather than another, but that is a separate discussion.

    Another common misconception is that gamist, narrativist, or simulationist agendas imply particular attitudes towards honoring or changing the rules of a game as written: for example, that gamists will never hack or change a rule that they dislike during the course of a game, or that narrativists are quick to dispose with or reinstate a rule as it clashes with or facilitates the story they want to tell. The question of if, when, and how to change game rules are orthogonal to the GNS question; Forge and Forge legacy theorists will be really confused if you talk to them about how you are a narrativist and so you changed a rule in the middle of a session. There's nothing morally wrong with using a term in a different way than it was originally used, but it causes some confusion, and may rob us of a useful way to talk about personal priorities rather than features of game design or attitudes towards rules. After all, a gamist could ignore a rule because it gives one player an unfair advantage, a narrativist could ignore a rule because it resolves an important emotional arc too quickly, and a simulationist could ignore a rule because that's not how halberds work in real life, for instance.

    My friend Chris explains this topic better than I. Where we disagree, trust him over me. Here are his articles on …
    … what the Big Model is
    … what creative agendas are
    … what narrativist play is like
    … what narrativist play is not like
    … running Exalted using Ron Edwards's Sorcerer (unrelated to this discussion)


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  • #3
    Originally posted by aluminiumtrioxid View Post
    To be honest, I find this to be a far more useful model for describing player preferences.
    That's fair. The Forge alumni rarely talk about creative agendas anymore. I'm hesitant to read a lot of content from that guy's site since he declares on his about page that he actually hates a category of gamers which sometimes includes me and definitely includes many of my friends, but it seems pretty good too. Neither model easily describes even a plurality of the enjoyment I, and the people with whom I game most often, get from RPG.


    Currently Developing you know I should probably stop updating this field, I keep accidentally announcing things early
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    • #4
      Okay.

      As someone who has never been to The Forge, but has seen a lot of arguments erupt over these terms on RPG.net over the years, please help me understand: how do I use this to help people have fun? For the sake of argument, assume that my players are an even mix of people who don't use these terms, and people who do, but (1) identify with different agendas and (2) do not always agree about what the agendas they do identify with mean. How does any of this discussion help me make a game which they (and I!) will enjoy?


      "For me, there's no fundamental conflict between really loving something and also seeing it as very profoundly flawed." -- Jay Eddidin

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      • #5
        It's important to understand why your players have fun roleplaying. Do they have fun with the actual role playing aspect and getting in character? Do they like delving into the mechanics and building different kinds of characters? Being able to identify what sorts of things different players enjoy when it comes to RPGs can help you better design your sessions for maximum enjoyment.

        I mean, ideally as an ST you'll be doing this anyway, but sometimes having specific words and definitions for things can help you approach a subject in a different way than when you were doing it more by instinct or intuition.

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        • #6
          Originally posted by Chejop Kejak View Post
          Okay.

          As someone who has never been to The Forge, but has seen a lot of arguments erupt over these terms on RPG.net over the years, please help me understand: how do I use this to help people have fun? For the sake of argument, assume that my players are an even mix of people who don't use these terms, and people who do, but (1) identify with different agendas and (2) do not always agree about what the agendas they do identify with mean. How does any of this discussion help me make a game which they (and I!) will enjoy?
          I'd say the short answer is; if you're playing with friends who have been at your table for some time - not very much.

          Unless you're completely unaware of who your players are as people (or maybe dont care, but at that point why would you be reading these?), i don't find these labels to be particularly helpful because i've already grown bonds with my players and we understand each other.

          Where these models and labels become useful is when two parties don't largely understand each other; maybe they have communication issues but usually its because they have just met (or you're talking to anonymous people from across the globe). In which case these models serve to shortcut the bonding you don't have time for - because you're at a once-a-year function, or meeting with a new group for a change of pace or something - so you can broadly contextualize relevant interests in a meaningful way.

          This is how larger entities like companies interact with smaller entities like individuals. It can't be personable with every single individual so it contextualizes them into easy to understand groups (see: cold call theory, its much the same) so it can cater to larger swaths of individuals, or target its products to certain demographics who might quibble on details but largely agree in spirit.

          I find the thoughts fascinating, but i've never run for a cold group before - always friends i've known for a long time with the occasional new player who i began with this understanding already in tact.

          I'd say if it doesn't jive with you or seems pointless, its probably necause you're already doing it if not using the same words. For a comminity of players that don't necessarily know each other though (like, say - an internet forum), it can help provide a framework for communication that can start lasting connections.
          Last edited by Elkovash; 06-02-2016, 03:29 PM.


          My Homebrew: Architect of the Regal Puppet Style (WIP) || Monkey Style || Radiant Halo of Incandescent Might || Pale Driver, Ruination of the Edifice of Tyranny || Sublime Percussion, Just a Whole lot of Fun || Idris, The Graceful Heart of Purpose

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          • #7
            I think this video does apply to tabletop rpg...and I even met all these kind of players and won't lie...I'm even one of these archetypes.

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            • #8
              Originally posted by Elkovash View Post
              I'd say the short answer is; if you're playing with friends who have been at your table for some time - not very much.

              Unless you're completely unaware of who your players are as people (or maybe dont care, but at that point why would you be reading these?), i don't find these labels to be particularly helpful because i've already grown bonds with my players and we understand each other.
              It can still be kind of handy to stop and think about these things and get your player's perspective on them.

              I've been gaming with (largely) the same group of people for just over two decades. About three years ago we had a discussion about RPG design and different categories, and I was surprised as heck to find out one of my players (who was always building optimal characters) didn't actually enjoy doing that.

              He'd make characters that were incredibly strong in combat, I'd send strong enemies after him, and we'd spend some time rolling dice in combat, because I thought that's what he liked. He was building his characters for combat after all!

              Turned out he didn't, and the only reason he'd been doing that for the last 17 years was because I kept sending strong enemies after him and he felt he had to build his characters that way or else his character would die.

              "I thought you just enjoyed trying to kill my characters!"

              Whoops!

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              • #9
                Originally posted by AnubisXy View Post
                It's important to understand why your players have fun roleplaying. Do they have fun with the actual role playing aspect and getting in character? Do they like delving into the mechanics and building different kinds of characters? Being able to identify what sorts of things different players enjoy when it comes to RPGs can help you better design your sessions for maximum enjoyment.
                Where the GNS theory kind of shoots itself in the foot, however, is declaring that a game can only serve one master (I actually consider Exalted to be a prime example of a game that's equally suited to satisfying gamist and narrativist preferences).

                Well, that, and not really offering much on the "okay but what do I do with this information?" front.


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                • #10
                  Originally posted by AnubisXy View Post

                  It can still be kind of handy to stop and think about these things and get your player's perspective on them.

                  I've been gaming with (largely) the same group of people for just over two decades. About three years ago we had a discussion about RPG design and different categories, and I was surprised as heck to find out one of my players (who was always building optimal characters) didn't actually enjoy doing that.

                  He'd make characters that were incredibly strong in combat, I'd send strong enemies after him, and we'd spend some time rolling dice in combat, because I thought that's what he liked. He was building his characters for combat after all!

                  Turned out he didn't, and the only reason he'd been doing that for the last 17 years was because I kept sending strong enemies after him and he felt he had to build his characters that way or else his character would die.

                  "I thought you just enjoyed trying to kill my characters!"

                  Whoops!
                  I agree that the model is helpful to facilitate communication, as i said in my post.


                  My Homebrew: Architect of the Regal Puppet Style (WIP) || Monkey Style || Radiant Halo of Incandescent Might || Pale Driver, Ruination of the Edifice of Tyranny || Sublime Percussion, Just a Whole lot of Fun || Idris, The Graceful Heart of Purpose

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                  • #11
                    Having words and definitions can help jumpstart a conversation on the subject and might even help players realize what they enjoy (and don't enjoy). Sometimes it's hard to know that if you've never tried to articulate it before. I imagine most groups have never sat down and discussed what they enjoy and why they enjoy it when it comes to roleplaying, and if you don't have any terms or definitions, it can be difficult just to begin that kind of discussion.

                    It is useful though to know what sorts of things different players enjoy. If player 1 enjoys X, player 2 enjoys Y but player 3 really hates Y, when you'll have a better idea of how to balance your games when you run then in order to maximize everyone's enjoyment.

                    I think GNS is more useful for RPG design than for actual player identification. I think the link you posted earlier aluminum was more useful for groups looking to have this kind of conversation.

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                    • #12
                      As I understand it, The Forge got started and grew because a lot of players didn't like the way they were playing. They just got the feeling that something was missing, and roleplaying games would be what they wanted to if they just could figure out what was missing.

                      Some people can have played for decades, and doing things because they are stuck in a mindset where they are doing something they just like enough to not quit. By talking about different gaming styles, they might find something else is resonating a lot more for them.

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                      • #13
                        "Not things the design team put much credit in."

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                        • #14
                          Originally posted by aluminiumtrioxid View Post

                          Where the GNS theory kind of shoots itself in the foot, however, is declaring that a game can only serve one master (I actually consider Exalted to be a prime example of a game that's equally suited to satisfying gamist and narrativist preferences).

                          Well, that, and not really offering much on the "okay but what do I do with this information?" front.
                          The GNS model was designed around Ron Edwards' dissatisfaction with Vampire: THe Masquerade, specifically the way it called itself a storytelling game but had mechanics that seemed to try to simulate reality. Much of Forge culture was built around anger at this apparent problem, and the assumption that this was a) bad design, and b) deceitful-to-the-point-of-immorality marketing. He tried to reform RPG design culture around the idea that games should know what they're about and should have mechanics about those things.

                          Lots of good ideas came out of Forge culture, but his central conceit -- that it is bad design and wrong-in-the-immoral-sense to have a game that tries to support multiple styles of play at the expense of being perfect in one hyperspecialized style of play, especially if you then present it as a game that's about something it's less than laser-focused on that thing -- really is not compatible with the demonstrated preferences of a gamer culture that made White Wolf games some of the biggest, most popular, most widely-played games of their era.

                          Ex3 is specifically built around some assumptions that The Forge violently rejects, like

                          A) The assumption that games should support a wide variety of play styles.

                          B) The assumption that it's generally a good idea for play mechanics to correspond to the way players conceive of their characters acting, so if you have your character throw a punch, most players will be most comfortable with a game that assigns a "roll to successfully throw a punch" rather than, say, some higher order of abstraction where you make a violence roll once per scene to try to shape its violent outcome, with specific punches just being narrative.

                          C) The assumption that it's okay for a game's mechanics not to be totally theoretically consistent as long as they're functional -- witness, for example, the way initiative and withering/decisive is an abstraction of the sort Assumption B, above, seems to reject... and nevertheless the combat system both presents itself in a manner that allows players most comfortable with roll-to-punch to understand it in that way and uses a layer of somewhat narrative-y abstraction to present pacing and tension.

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                          • #15
                            I think that they are useful in the sense of knowing the different parts of your audience (and the different things you'll want out of your game.)

                            I mentioned this before, but the developers of Magic: The Gathering say that they describe three broad types of players they keep in mind when designing mechanics:

                            1. Spikes, who just care about winning and want cards that are as optimal as possible. They want cards that are efficient and which will win them the game.

                            2. Johnnies, who like to fiddle with the mechanics and see it as almost a sort of artistic expression. They put more value than other people on their decks and tricks being "unique." They want cards that are interesting and sets, as a whole, that lend themselves to lots of different types of mechanical exploration.

                            3. Timmies, who want effects that do "something cool", whether it's actually mechanically optimal or not. They like big explosions, large numbers, flashy cards that have big dramatic effects or a lot of keywords, etc. They differ from spikes in that the cards don't have to objectively be powerful, or at least not the absolute most optimal stuff available; they just have to feel powerful (although obviously they have to at least be playable and capable of winning games or the Timmies will get frustrated and leave.) The stereotypical example of a Timmie is someone who loves to play with a huge powerful expensive dragon in his deck. He maybe gets to cast it about half the time, but when he does, he almost always wins overwhelmingly and goes home happy.

                            Some sets are more oriented to one group or another, but overall each set they produce has cards that try to satisfy each of these categories. (Few people want entirely just one thing.)

                            I tend to think that it's dumb to say "this game is specifically made for that part of the audience", because so few people actually want one "pure" thing out of the game. But it's useful to be able to recognize the different things parts of your audience wants so you can say "this charm is intended to be fun for those people", or even "this entire splatbook is a bit more oriented towards these people." If I were writing a bunch of Exalted charms, I'd probably keep the way MTG designs its cards in mind, and deliberately include some charms intended for each of them.

                            (Sometimes you can make something that satisfies everyone! But not always. Johnnies, for instance, often actually like effects that look underpowered at first glance, as long as they also do something interesting and unique, because it's more satisfying to come up with a clever way to abuse them. Obviously eg. if you were viewing Exalted through the lens of MTG design, the Sidereal charmset is a bit more Johnny-flavored, whereas the Solar charmset is more Spike / Timmy and the Lunar charmset IMHO probably is heavily Timmy-flavored... Eg. IIRC Holden once said that one of the most Lunar things was rolling your dice by the bucketful, which is pure Timmy.)



                            Trying to design stuff to tickle the various GSN tastes is a bit more obvious (it's so obvious that it hardly seems useful), but to a certain extent Exalted tickles all three, and you can sort of see how they influence design in the sense that... Exalted tries to include mechanical widgets usable by players in almost every book (books that don't have those tend to, well, not sell very well.) It also tends to try and make its charms and artifacts and such both an expression of the setting (tickling narrative tastes) and stuff that, at the bare minimum, at least fits into the setting in a reasonable manner (tickling simulationist tastes.)

                            They don't have to design the entire game around one taste in order to address it somehow. In fact, I'd argue that a big part of Exalted's success is in the way it generally managed to appeal to a wide variety of tastes. (This also explains why the fanbase is sometimes a bit rancorous, since there are people who love Exalted and yet want very different things out of the game, whether it's "moar Lunars" or "make the mechanics reflect the laws of physics in the setting!!!1one" or whatever.)

                            But I would imagine it is useful to keep in mind when writing or laying out a book that eg. some players will briefly skim the detailed setting lore before leaping to the charms and artifacts they can insert into their game, while other players will be reading the whole book for the narrative ideas it gives them, and still others will be reading with a goal of getting a working model of your game's setting in their head.
                            Last edited by Aquillion; 06-02-2016, 11:54 PM.

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