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April 24th, 2007


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11:58 am - GNS Links and Comments
I think I've done fairly well to avoid discussion on the GNS Model. The last time I had a post focused on the GNS Model was back in November 2005: "Me and GNS", where I commented that I wouldn't post about it much -- which it appears I've done fairly well on.

Still, there are posts on it to time to time that I read, and I thought I'd summarize again. There's Jono's Natural Log post GNS theory. Also, I've listened to Clyde Rhoer's Theory from the Closet podcast on my commute. Also, there was recently adamdray's post "An example of Simulationist thinking" -- referring to jediwiker's post "From Hollywood to Home Campaign (Part II of V)".

On a personal note, it still gets me very frustrated to see Ron Edwards' vision of primarily genre-emulating, predefined-theme play (i.e. GNS Simulationism) conflated with cause-and-effect exploration of actions and consequences (i.e. rgfa Threefold Simulationism) -- which I think happens in Jono's post. In my opinion, following from in-game cause to effect is directly antithetical to pre-authored themes and storylines -- and is excellent for exploring choices and consequences.

However, at this point I feel that both GNS and the Threefold are both too narrow in scope. These days, I am more interested in the larger picture of real-world goals of play -- socializing, learning, stress relief, competitive exhibition -- and how game processes feed into these. At some point I would want to revisit my old Forge post, "Classifying by Social Function". In-game cause and effect is a useful tool for a number of these, but it isn't a goal.

Still, GNS is there, and so I thought I should post on it as I thought about it. For a more general introduction to it, I would recommend first M. Joseph Young's series on Places to Go, People to Be:
There is also Ben Lehman's "Introduction to Forge Theory" series of blog posts,

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From:heron61
Date:April 24th, 2007 07:57 pm (UTC)
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On a personal note, it still gets me very frustrated to see Ron Edwards' vision of primarily genre-emulating, predefined-theme play (i.e. GNS Simulationism) conflated with cause-and-effect exploration of actions and consequences (i.e. rgfa Threefold Simulationism) -- which I think happens in Jono's post. In my opinion, following from in-game cause to effect is directly antithetical to pre-authored themes and storylines -- and is excellent for exploring choices and consequences.

That particular conflation, combined with the similar conflation of actor and IC stance, which goes along with the profound level of hostility and ignorance surrounding immersion by most aficionados of Edward's theories are the primary reasons that I largely avoid everything dealing with RPG theories based on Edwards' ideas. I think they apply fairly well to a few very specific sorts of gaming, but these are sorts of little interest to me, and have little application outside of those limits. I remain both annoyed and disappointed that Forge theory and its immediate descendants now represent the majority of active RPG theory.
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From:chgriffen
Date:April 24th, 2007 11:15 pm (UTC)
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You might find that interest in immersion has grown quite a bit recently, especially among those you'd probably consider "Edwards' Aficionados" such as Vincent Baker. You can find a whole bunch of genuinely interested (and interesting) recent threads on Knife Fight, where the topic has its own category.
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From:fang_langford
Date:April 25th, 2007 03:23 am (UTC)

Different Theories Provide Incompatible Results

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I've been struggling with these issues too. My audience has really helped me get a grasp on what's going on.

The major idea I wanted to share is that Ron Edwards' Big Model is purely a behaviorist theory. It's based entirely on observable behavior by the players and categorizes them by patterns of behavior. Genre emulation, (pre-)authoring and 'storylining' in the model are behaviors, not goals. The Edwards' Big Model (EBM) clearly steers quite away from things like what players want or think.

That means it has no relevance to the desire for the exploration of cause and effect, actions and consequences; these are player motivations (if anything coloring the comprehension of their behavior). There is no comparison with the EBM.

And the same can be said of the work you did classifying by social function. Very early in that thread, it becomes clear that you are looking at gaming as a group dynamic, specifically not looking at process or product. While one can prioritize social function for gaming, player priorities don't matter in your scheme (at least the gist I got; no offense if I read it wrong).

So we have three types of theories here; a behaviorist categorization theory, a motivational perceptual theory and a group dynamic theory (I think). These are simply not compatible. That they choose to use identical terminology will only create more confusion and flame war.

Or at least that's the way I've begun to look at it. I think....

Fang Langford
From:losrpg
Date:April 25th, 2007 10:13 pm (UTC)

Re: Different Theories Provide Incompatible Results

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"The major idea I wanted to share is that Ron Edwards' Big Model is purely a behaviorist theory. It's based entirely on observable behavior by the players and categorizes them by patterns of behavior. Genre emulation, (pre-)authoring and 'storylining' in the model are behaviors, not goals."

No, it's not based on observable behavior. It's based on interpretations of observable behavior. The fundamental objects of Big Model theory are not observable behaviors, but rather interpretations of observable behaviors.

Big difference.
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From:fang_langford
Date:April 26th, 2007 02:18 am (UTC)

Re: Different Theories Provide Incompatible Results

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I'm not sure I'm communicating this right because you're saying the same thing I am. The EBM is all about interpretations of behavior; the interpretations I called 'categories.' I did that because the EBM makes a big deal about NOT interpreting player intent or motivation. Gamism is a category of observable behaviors. Addressing the Premise and Exploration as priorities are interpretations of behaviour, but not interpretation of player intention or desire; thus categories.

Interpretations / categories; we are all talking about the same thing. While you can say that you observe a player behaving as if he's pursuing consequences of his actions, but you'd be on thin ice with the EBM. Strict adherents would say the player is observed emulating a genre; the behaviors look the same. The difference is what the player wants, not in the EBM.

If you are observing social dynamics, the behaviors are in 'the social contact' level of the EBM. Enjoying the social situation has to do with what the player wants; again, not a part of the EBM.

This is why these are not compatible with the EBM. As far as I can tell.... I think.... Probably.... Anyhow.

Fang Langford
From:losrpg
Date:April 26th, 2007 02:23 am (UTC)

Re: Different Theories Provide Incompatible Results

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Ah. Cool.

It's just that when I hear "behaviorist theory", I tend to think in terms of measuring behaviors that are directly observable -- in other words, behavior that requires no interpretation to be categorized. Things like: did the mouse eat the cheese, or didn't it?
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From:jhkimrpg
Date:April 26th, 2007 12:34 am (UTC)

Re: Different Theories Provide Incompatible Results

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I have to agree with Lee here. In my experience, discussions where we tried to distinguish between whether someone had "prioritized Address of Premise" versus "prioritized Exploration" were never clearly observational behavior.
From:cydmab
Date:April 25th, 2007 03:42 pm (UTC)

Story and Narrative Paradigms...

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When I think GNS and I think John Kim, I think of: http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/theory/narrative/paradigms.html

That is, I think of GNS as being fundamentally wedded to the idea that there is a shared imagined space and that is what is being focused on by everyone. When I forget that hidden assumption, GNS seems completely moronic to me. When I remember that assumption, and force myself into that paradigm, the theory makes alot more sense. My innate distaste for GNS is less a function of the theory, and more with the underlying paradigm.

For example, with a shared imagined space, incoherence makes sense as a concern. When we are all focused on the same model of a virtual world, it would probally help to be on the same page and have the same basic creative process. But if we aren't focused on the same story/model/shared imagined space, incoherence seems like a weird thing to worry about. One player could be min/max tweaking his characters choices and powers, another focused on developing his character's personality evolution, another creating a perfect representation of his favorite movie character, another crafting a story about love, another a story about farming, etc.

For another example, take The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast. When there is ONE story, then there is indeed a paradox. But if the GM crafts and forces A story, but the players are focused on other stories (like the story of their character's) then there's no paradox. PC behavior becomes "merely color" for the GM's story, and the GM's plot becomes merely color for each character story. The GM might have a forced plot where the hero saves the world from Goblins, while the player focuses on whether the hero comes to terms with his estranged brother. The hero and his brother is merely color to the GM, and the goblin saving the world stuff is merely color to the player.

(And by "merely color" I don't mean the other players contributions aren't useful. They just aren't the main focus of each player.)


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