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Simulationism is 'safe'

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Simulationism is 'safe'

I'd like to share some thoughts about Simulationism (the Creative Agenda as per Forge theory).

My little pet theory - which may be nothing new as it's been a long time since the Forge days - is that this creative agenda is attractive - among other things! - because it is 'safe', i.e. it is unlikely to upset you, challenge you, or make you vulnerable.

On Simulationism
I like to think about Simulationism as Celebrationism, i.e. the point of play is to celebrate a particular subject matter, e.g. a setting (like a Superhero universe), a genre (like wuxia), a simulation (of ballistics, for instance) and so on. I'm not quite sure about it, but I think the creative vision of one participant (an auteur GM) also qualifies. Nothing new, really, and even the term celebrationism was floated at the Forge.

On the Safety of various Creative Agendas
Gamism requires stepping up and thus entails the chance of losing. Narrativism requires artistic/creative contribution and entails the chance of rejection. Celebrationism is safe by comparison: as long as you buy into the source material, you are going to do fine, socially.

Another player might out-geek you (knowing more about the MCU etc.) but that does neither sting as much as losing a character nor stress out as much as the need to improvise a cool contribution now.

I speak of experience here because I was another insecure loner as a teen, and the lack of (open) competition in my early roleplaying was a major draw for me. It was 'us' (the players) against the (game) world -- and as a cherry on top, we always won, too. This was due to illusionism, of course.

One major motivation behind illusionism is a desire for safety -- on both sides of the screen. For a GM, improvisation may seem daunting and using illusionist techniques to stay within the prepared content is one way to avoid it. For players, illusionism allows them to be covertly shielded from failure, particularly character death.

I think this desire for safety is part of a *social* agenda, not a creative one, which just happens to align well with Simulationism (which in turn works well with Illusionism, or at least better than Nar or Gam).

A social agenda pursues a social desire (e.g. hooking up with a cute co-player) and could be pursued via activities other than playing an RPG (e.g. hiking).

A common social agenda is being accepted, making friends, hanging out with other people. This is particularly important if none of these things come easy to you. A Simulationist game offers a comparatively safe venue to pursue this social agenda.

*-*-*

A quick observation about 'safe' entertainment…

The desire for 'safe' entertainment (i.e. unlikely to upset you or challenge you) is about as mainstream as you can get: The vast majority of Hollywood movies play it safe and audiences like it that way -- they want to turn off their brains and just enjoy the ride (hence franchises and movie stars -- you know exactly what you'll get with a James Bond movie or a Dwayne Johnson vehicle). Horror is arguably different in this respect.

…and some closing remarks on being insecure:

(1) While insecure people may be drawn to Simulationism, this does not mean the reverse is true, i.e. players who like Simulationism are not automatically insecure. It is a creative agenda, after all, and can be just as challenging creatively as the other agendas.

(2) Insecure people's desire to connect with others, fit in etc., in a safe environment is perfectly legitimate. I formed many lasting friendships through gaming.

(3) Tons of people are insecure (often at some points or in some parts of their lives). It's normal. This post is not intended to deride anyone (nor Simulationism, illusionism, or mainstream Hollywood flicks).

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I recant...

This is rather half-baked, I'm afraid. I did not take into account Silmenume's accounts of Bricolage / Mythmaking which is Simulationist and not only creatively but also emotionally challenging (i.e., very intense) for the participants. This definitely warrants further thought.

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"Classifying by Social Function"...

...is the name of an old Forge thread which goes into much more depth than my little post. It can be found here.

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Without tying it to Forge

Without tying it to Forge models, I agree that "The desire for 'safe' entertainment (i.e. unlikely to upset you or challenge you) is about as mainstream as you can get" is somewhat true. I'd say, that's what the majors of entertainment industry want to push on the general public. Because safe means stable income. Would you consider the unsafe incestuous and bloody traditional fairytales or greek tragedies "mainstream" ? They are well known, but they are not "a product" in the same way that an Hollywood FX movie is. So, I'd say there definitely is such a thing as safe mainstream entertainment. How people choose and play their games, as you noted, is different, because people are not statistics.
I have a parallel theory that part of our fellow hobbyist have a principle that's often left as an unspoken assumption, that goes contrary to improvisation. Namely that communication between players minds has to be near perfect to enjoy the game. That is : the less you have to alter or "correct" your mental images, the better the game. Because it means people are on the same page, etc. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhylxXohoMU This is from a culture where error is a problem. And to me it's a deep misunderstanding of how communication, imagination and improvisation work. So that people who play with these principles are like riders giving spurs and pulling on the reins at the same time.

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An interesting point!

I have a parallel theory that part of our fellow hobbyist have a principle that's often left as an unspoken assumption, that goes contrary to improvisation. Namely that communication between players minds has to be near perfect to enjoy the game. That is : the less you have to alter or "correct" your mental images, the better the game. Because it means people are on the same page, etc.

That's an interesting point and I fully agree. I think some players are liable to have difficulties adapting to others' improvised contributions because said players have a lot of preconceptions inappropriate to a given game. They might, for instance, settle on a backstory for a character who is not wholly theirs (due to shared narrative duties etc.).

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Interesting points, and good

Interesting points, and good food for thought.

I suppose which agenda one finds "safest" depends on one's comfort zone. That is, different games are provided to provide safety from different things. I would have thought of gamism as very much motivated by a certain kind of safety - safety from loss of control. The game is designed so you always have control over your own destiny. I am thinking of a game like Pathfinder, where the rules are highly codified and the adventures are usually designed to provide a fair and balanced challenge. It is safe because the things that can happen are predictable (they are enumerated in the rulebook); the most important scenes (combat) follow the rules most strictly; and if you read the rules carefully and play smart, you will probably win. If you lose, you can see how you could have done better. As long as everyone follows the rules, you are sure to have a correct experience within certain defined boundaries.

By contrast, if you play an illusionist game, you essentially need to submit to somebody else's control. That's an act of trust; if it seems safe, it is only because you trust the storyteller to provide a good story. One reason players balk at railroading is because they aren't willing to trust their game master. Relinquishing control of one's own character takes one out of one's comfort zone.

Or if you play an open-ended sandbox game (which I take to be some branch of simulationism, depending how you define simulationism), the outcomes are very unpredictable, even to the DM. Again, this means a relinquishment of control. If you are really devoted to simulation of the fantasy world, then that means you have to follow the logic of the world and the roll of the dice no matter what -- even if the results are horrific, or boring, or not at all what you wanted.

To me, certainly, narrativism is the most daunting creative agenda and would be the farthest outside my comfort zone. But I think for someone else this could be very different. After all, aren't most narrativist games designed to provide a certain defined type of experience? If you want that experience, and if you've played the game, that could be your comfort zone.

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yeah

You're not wrong, and I agree with most of what you've said, but I think there is still a mostly-open frontier of game design in which aspects of narrative structure and content are approached via mechanical means.

That's actually my sweet spot: It's a lifelong fascination that took me beyond TTRPG design and into theater spaces, and then into web programming, and now back into TTRPG design again.

One level of abstraction up, where N is approached as if it is G or S.

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Sim is dangerous!

I don't agree, and I think you're making a mistake in associating narrativism with artistic/creative contribution but not simulationism. In my (admittedly few, and non-mainstream) simulationist experiences, the social risk is that you are not on the same page as everyone else in the thing it is that we're creating together. If everyone else in the group are vigorously agreeing on things and you're the one contributing something discordant that doesn't fit in with the tone or content of the ""dream"" - that's really awkward and game-derailing stuff. In a lot of narrativist games that wouldn't be a big deal - a few discordant things can be accepted into the fiction easily without taking away from the real point of the game - but imagining things correctly in sim play is a big deal. Breaking the consensus on what's "correct" can feel a lot like being judged.

Plus, the elements of something that you're interested in celebrating still reveals a lot about your thinking, interests, etc. Narrativism doesn't have a monopoly on exposing your unsafe thoughts, or on having to improvise something cool..

Now, if you rob your players of all their creative agency by running some illusionist theme-park ride - yeah, of course that's safe.

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Illusionism seems to be the chief provider of safety.

Good points regarding comfort zones, Billy. Looks as if people differ in regard to who or what they willingly cede control to - i.e. the GM or a rules system. I was a pretty crafty Illusionist back in the day, so in most cases, I won't trust any die rolls made behind a GM screen, for instance.

Aik, I think you may be right: Maybe it's only Illusionism that is safe, and it just happens to be a subset of Simulationist play (or more precisely, Illusionist techniques are only acceptable in a certain kind of Simulationist play).

In other words, the need to be (extra) safe is the priority, which may limit (or, more realistically, skew) the choice to Simulationism, but the crucial point is that the choice of games is further whittled down to games with Illusionist techniques.

Most Narrativist play I've seen was very tolerant of weaker contributions and took them in stride, but signifcant contributions, i.e., hard choices, were always necessary -- whereas in an Illusionist game, the 'right' choice is usually obvious and you just roll some dice for cosmetic reasons. Zero risk (provided you trust the GM).

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And yet

And then it's me not agreeing on a point : namely that Narrativism entails significant contributions. Or maybe I am not understanding it as you mean it. Three arguments :
1 - "Weaker contributions" are not only tolerated, they often are the way to go.
2 - Moral choices are not necessarily "hard".
3 - Improvisation is much more unsafe when it uses techniques like endowment (pointed questions).

Maybe it's in a specific agenda, but what I see is a tradition of :
- jealous character monogamy (Inviolate characters)
- an emphasis on skills,powers, and means of action (I'm good at what I do)
That to me screams "Control!" (maybe control feels "safe" ?) ... until the GM enters the picture. The idea being that in a tradition of GM-led game, making sure you Control! your character is really like getting a grip on it, like gripping/waxing/gooing/puffing/bootstrapping in tennis/surf/skate/climbing/hiking. So maybe what we're seeing is just ordinary players dressed in overkill neon-coloured cycling gear because that's what their tradition (male, boasting) set as "normal".

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Another angle

Also, maybe roleplaying with improv requires to adapt faster ?

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Clarifications and linking to a relevant essay

I have come to realize that my little pet theory doesn't really hold up, thanks to you guys and Eero's essay Observations on GNS Simulationism at his new blog and the subsequent discussions here and there. Simulationism can have teeth, i.e. be emotionally and intellectually challenging and not safe at all.

By "weaker contributions" I meant courses of action and choices that are uninspiring, lazy, or try to dodge the issue at hand:

If your character must decide on a course of action because a new rival gang is taking over the neighbourhood, "we'll ramp up security" or "I'll put a price on the rival gang leader's head" are pretty weak as far as I'm concerned. Much more proactive, personal and interesting if you set an actual trap, promise your daughter's hand for the rival gang leader's head - an interesting prize and not really yours to give, so rife for conflict -, ask for negotiations _in person_ etc.

If your superhero character is faced with a 'hard' choice, like either saving her boyfriend OR a school bus full of children, saying "I guess I'll try to save both, just tell me what to roll" or "the children of course, that's what my [real-life] ethics teacher argues", that's weak in my book. Please note that I'm okay with both trying the impossible and indecisiveness a la Hamlet, but these choices should come from a passionate place.

Also, I'm interested in hearing more about the spectrum of moral choices. Do you have some examples, perhaps?

And finally, yeah, I guess flexibility likely extends to different contexts (e.g. creating content but also reacting to or integrating others' content).

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I agree strongly with Aik

Hello,

... In my (admittedly few, and non-mainstream) simulationist experiences, the social risk is that you are not on the same page as everyone else in the thing it is that we're creating together. If everyone else in the group are vigorously agreeing on things and you're the one contributing something discordant that doesn't fit in with the tone or content of the ""dream"" - that's really awkward and game-derailing stuff. [...] - but imagining things correctly in sim play is a big deal. Breaking the consensus on what's "correct" can feel a lot like being judged.

That social risk is part of the "rush" of playing Sim. Playing without the safety net of a large mechanic's system, or a premise to address leaves a player much more exposed when making creative choices that not only "fit", push events forward, but must also happen immediately in the present. Aik is right in that just the making of a decision isn't enough. The decision or contribution must fit the table "aesthetic" which is a huge deal. I'm not just talking about that history or the facts fit the game but that the contribution is done in such a way that is exciting, clever, fresh, daring, moving, etc. To be clear merely aping the established aesthetic is not enough but rather the player's ability to add to the aesthetic without breaking it (discordance as it were) is very important. That is an exercise in tightrope walking without a safety net. Doing something that meets all those criteria under pressure in the present in a way that is highly affective is incredibly powerful.

Aik is also correct in that breaking the table aesthetic is jarringly discordant. A player is always being judged based on their input because if they cannot add well then the game reaaaaaaly suffers and everyone's fun is strongly diminished. That "aesthetic" is a huge part of the Creative Agenda. Imagine playing in an improv jazz band and one of the soloists suddenly starts playing in a Baroque style. This would totally shatter the energy of the group that had been building during their jam session. A less overt issue is that the players are relying on the other players to provide fresh interpretations of the "aesthetic" so as to be inspired themselves. Without these interpretations of the "aesthetic" from the other players it becomes much harder for a given player to build their own momentum.

This "aesthetic" is always under judgment as it represents one of the strongest components of play (or perhaps better said of the who CA). Yet the "aesthetic" is a subjective thing with everyone having a slightly different relationship with it. Therein lies the issues and the energy. There is no hard line so a player is always walking that line of socially judged failure or awesome.

Best,

Jay

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There are some nuggets in the OP

Hello Johann,

Looked at a certain way I agree with your OP that early/most Sim games could be thought of as "safe" or what I would call bland/poorly realized Sim CA expression.

To date Sim is barely understood and in the early days of the hobby was not understood at all. Generally speaking and even up to present with one notable exception socalled "Sim" facilitating games are really Gamist style mechanics with a thin veneer of Sim pablum in the books explaining that "this" game is Sim supporting. These incoherently designed games rarely shook of the Gamist pull of the mechanics and rarely reached Sim style play. Hence the games never reached the potential that all CA's have to fully engage the heart and mind and become "dangerous". So it isn't that Sim is "safe", its that Sim couldn't, didn't find the space and means to allow for powerful expression leaving most games bland, directionless and unchallenging. This isn't construed to mean that most players didn't enjoy the gaming experiences they had but my experiences and discussions with other players led me to believe that most of the enjoyment happened at the social level and not from the satisfaction of expressing a CA well.

What was called "Sim" historically, until very recently, (with the exception of Archipellago) was not even a partially understood creative agenda and thus so called Sim supporting game designs were anything but. There was no way to design for something that was not understood. Thus bland. Thus "safe".

Best,

Jay

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types of sim

It should be noted that there are at least 3 types of Sim. We might term them "Reality Sim," "Fantasy Sim," and "Genre Sim."

Reality Sims model the physical dynamics of the real world as we know it. Fantasy Sims model the physical dynamics of imaginary worlds (such as worlds where magic flows in invisible rivers across the landscape), and Genre Sims model the physical phenomena (note that I said phenomena, not dynamics) of a particular media genre.

There may be considerable overlap between these three types, and "Reality Sim" is generally treated as a tacit fallback for the other two. One might even argue that "Fantasy Sims" are really just "Reality Sims" but for different worlds. The outlier is the Genre Sim (Fiasco and most PbtA games are good examples), which is often okay with breaking the "rules of reality" for the sake of cinematic coolness.

One facet that has barely been explored is the distinction between the emulation of stylistic genres versus the emulation of narrative arcs. This last category (as seen in Fiasco and DayTrippers) is the blurry area where Sim overlaps with Narr.

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... types of sim?

Fiasco and PbtA games are not simulationist in any meaningful sense, as far as I can tell. I've played a million-odd games of Fiasco and not once has it been anything but outright, obvious narrativism. None of the PbtA stuff I've played does simulationism either - it heavily leans on genres and tropes, but the gameplay itself is always telling character stories with significant decisions and all that, not a deep dive into expressing the type of story. Vanilla narrativism with genre tropes does not simulationism make.
(though I have played some floppy PbtA games that were just a bunch of genre tropes mashed together minus the strong character motivation - I don't think that's simulationism either)

I am pretty sceptical about those discrete categories - is simulationism really about modelling things? I think it's just badly named - nothing is necessarily simulated or modelled. So long as the contributions of everyone can be synthesised into the game and don't contradict the aesthetic, there's no need for the contributions to be in-step with reality or genre (though those are good places to start - but the same can be said for other CAs).

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My understanding of what Sim

My understanding of what Sim is pretty well lines up with what Jay has posted.

Likewise, I agree that Sim never really got much in the way of development design-wise, mostly because the classification goes back to Forgey circles where Narrativist design was the new cool hotness and Gamist design was the retro-cool hotness, and well, Sim was the whipping boy for everything that people were running away from.

I think that kinda shows in Aik's post, because, man, that also gives me Forge flashbacks. If a game is cool, then by definition, it's not Sim. It must really be Narrativist.

Le sigh.

One of the things that I think came from later discussions of Sim was actually really useful: Sim is (at least partly, and a big part in all likelihood) a celebration of the source material.

All that stuff Jay mentions as part of the activity, where you're getting a bit risky trying to contribute while stretching ( but not breaking) the aesthetic, is, IMO, ways you're celebrating that source material*.

Sometimes the source material has a heavy component of stuff that is also common to Narrativist play, and there will be people who are drawn to that in whatever way they celebrate the source material in their Simmy play. That alone can cause some of the confusion between the two.

So...is it safe?

My experience? It gets less safe over time, although it may jump back towards safe if the boundaries of the shared aesthetic have been stretched quite far for some time. It has kind of a rollercoaster shape if you were to chart it.

* Source material can be a direct set of inspirations ( a specific property or even a sub-set of that property), something inspired strongly by a property ( the classic " X with the serial number filed off so we can expand whatever way we want without being beholden to all canon"), a broad style of inspiration material ( a time period, a genre or subgenre), or, yes, self-created material ( something like playing in Tekumel with MAR Barker GMing).

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... but I like sim?

Interesting, because I'm also pretty sure my idea of Sim lines up with what Jay has posted. If you disagree on Fiasco and PbtA, I'd like to see the reasoning/what the actual play of that looks like, because I really don't understand why people call them that unless we're playing it way differently.

I like Sim play - I've posted about one of my games in the Continuation on Mythic Play Style thread. I'm definitely not looking to move all the cool stuff into the narrativism label.

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I love Fiasco, but Fiasco is

I love Fiasco, but Fiasco is essentially The Cohen Brothers + Setting X, where X= some property or sub genre you're familiar with already.

I mean, yeah, you're celebrating the cross between two things, but that's pretty much it.

I guess if, for a given group, the playset used really doesn't matter all that much, and the majority of the players aren't Cohen brothers fans, then yeah, okay, it's pretty much straight Narr?

For PbTA games, I only own Dungeon World, Monster of the Week, and Spirit of '77 and each of those absolutely scream celebration of source material to me.

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An Object of Simulation

Celebration of source material, yes, but the word "Sim" (simulation) demands first and foremost something to be faithful to.
An Object of Simulation, which in this case is a complex gestalt, the composition of which depends on the game's style and intent.

It might be a world, it might be a generic situation, or it might even be a genre or a particular type of narrative structure you're simulating.

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Being faithful

Tod is spot on: Being faithful is key. A narrativist and a simulationist may both care for the material, but to the former, it is (probably delectable) fodder for one's own vision, whereas the latter would, while happily building upon it, probably balk at doing anything to make the original author spin in his or her grave.

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Being consistent

I might put it a little differently. To me (with my simulationist hat on) I really care about being consistent with the source material, more than about being faithful to it. I don't want to break the material in a way that exposes its artificiality, or that sets a precedent that the details no longer matter.

To give a silly example, if we were playing a Star Wars game, I'd baulk at somebody successfully performing the "Holdo manoeuvre" from The Last Jedi. But I'm not baulking because it's unfaithful to Star Wars, exactly. I don't care if George Lucas would have done it. I'm baulking because it goes against the established rules of the setting. It's inconsistent with what we know about the rules of space travel and military tactics in Star Wars. It makes our imagined universe harder to believe in. In effect, it's breaking toys that we spent a long time building, and that we still want to play with; it's trampling over all the precious details to which simulationist play is devoted.

I'm not necessarily convinced there does need to be a source material for simulationist play. We could build up our own world over many sessions of play. It's about being consistent with what we've established already - treating the details as if they matter - keeping it feeling real. Or so it seems to me.

Edit: Perhaps what I am saying shows I am more in the "reality sim" or "fantasy sim" camp - "faithful" might be more the right word if you are in the "genre sim" camp, concerned about "phenomena (but not dynamics)" as Tod says.

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Again I'm with Aik

Hello,

I am pretty sceptical about those discrete categories - is simulationism really about modelling things? I think it's just badly named - nothing is necessarily simulated or modelled. So long as the contributions of everyone can be synthesised into the game and don't contradict the aesthetic, there's no need for the contributions to be in-step with reality or genre (though those are good places to start - but the same can be said for other CAs).

First of all the idea that a motive for role-play is that a mechanics system can model a type of reality is absurd a priori. Forgive me the use of the word absurd, it is not an attack on the poster at all. What I mean is that reality is sooooooooooo complex that there is no way to effectively "model" it. The mathematics involved in any one action would require doctorate level physics and likely a super computer to solve. Its like saying people like playing flight simulators because they enjoy doing the mathematical modelling of the air flows over wings. No...they like flight simulators for the experience they provide not because they can see a scroll equations and solutions rolling across the screen. More importantly in such an analogy there is no "Creative" in Creative Agenda. Saying that reveling in the mechanics/math is a "Creative" Agenda is a contradiction in terms. Finally in this so called CA means that the players have no interesting in the SIS as the interest lies in the mechanics as an end unto itself. Nothing is being shared or created. Such play I would say would not even make the definition of an Role-playing as there is no creation interest in the players which means to particular interest or investment in the SIS. Whatever it is that is going on it doesn't meet the definition of role-play on a general level.

WRT "Fantasy Sim" and "Genre Sim", those distinctions don't hold as "Fantasy" is a genre. It is a distinction without a difference.

Best,

Jay

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The word "Fantasy"

I'm fine with using a different word, because yes, i am using it in a different sense here.
"Imagined world sim" would be fine - i.e. I meant "fantasy" as in "fantasized" or "made-up," not as the genre name.

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Hmmmmmm.....

Hello,

I also believe, as was mentioned up-thread, that Simulationism is a terrible name for the CA as it denotes the wrong idea entirely. People are way too hung up on the idea of physics simulations. But in fact "physics" such as they might be an issue is only relevant in the sense the fictional world is rational and predictable to the players at the most fundamental level i.e. my unskilled character can throw something like a baseball around 130' max - give or take a lot of factors. If a cliff looks dangerously tall it probably is. If a ravine looks to be approximately 10-12 feet across there is a chance I might be able to leap it but it will be risky and likely very painful to lethal if I fail. I don't need to know exact numbers because I am experiencing the world just like I experience this world through my senses. I typically don't have rangefinders and the like on my person. I look at things and make judgment calls based upon my flawed senses and my past history - just like real life

I might put it a little differently. To me (with my simulationist hat on) I really care about being consistent with the source material, more than about being faithful to it. I don't want to break the material in a way that exposes its artificiality, or that sets a precedent that the details no longer matter.

"Consistent" is not a bad choice of description. Not least of which is what we consider consistent or not consistent is subjective. It's something that the players need to be in close accord but not absolutely lockstep about. What parts of the source materials are we interested in being consistent about or not determines that table's local "aesthetic". This very aesthetic also determines what source materials we would be interested in playing and those we have no interest in. Consistent does not connote rigidity. New things can be added if they are consistent with the table aesthetic. Its not the data of the fictional world that are critical but rather the feel or the experience of "living" in that fictional world. New things can be brought into the world if they are consistent with the "aesthetic" that is being celebrated. That "aesthetic" is definitely influenced by the things in the world but as we are playing characters and not things the most important element of the aesthetic tend to revolve those matters of the human condition. What is/are the theme/s of the world? FREX in our game a big part of the table aesthetic is the gritty struggle against nearly hopeless odds. The long slow decay of the world into a dark age through the ages. An ancient history of heroes and unimaginable greats. The world is not equal and there are real differences between the gifts of the first born and the condition of the second born. That "Good" and "Evil" absolutes and tangible though the vast majority of the world is lived in the grey in between. Yes we want the world work in a way that is representative of the source material but that is primarily a matter of being consistent with the "aesthetic" we are celebrating. IOW the things of the world are important in as much as they represent or support the table "aesthetic." In Star Wars we want Imperial Star Destroyers not only because they were in the movie but that they represent to oppressive might of the Empire and their size speaks of technological prowess way beyond our own. They are awe (and fear) inspiring...

...and that is the heart of the mythic/bricolage process. A "concrete" object like an Imperial Star Destroyer is not a challenge to be measured and a source for an opportunity to employ mechanics to devise a strategy to destroy or evade it. Nor is meant to be a part of a Premise Address moment (if the players had maneuvered play to such a point). No in mythic/bricolage/Sim that Star Destroyer has a vast number of entailments/meanings limited only by the imaginations of the players and the established table aesthetic. That Imperial Star Destroyer's meaning structure is informed by the totality of the "myth" and the "myth" is altered and changed by the presence of the Imperial Star Destroyer in the "myth". The ship isn't just a "thing" it represents a whole raft of meanings that are shaped by the totality of the myth as well as the PC's person POV. IOW its an experiential process. But because doing things to "concrete" objects adds to the overall meaning of the "myth" then while the players are mindfully doing things regarding the Imperial Star Destroyer they are unmindfully adding to the overall mythic corpus. Yet the players input is constrained or consistent with the aesthetic of the "myth". It is this aesthetic that is being celebrated. We are conditioned in the West to see objects as things and forget that we process them as meanings. Sim functions on the meaning side and aesthetics is part of that meaning.

There's no "fantasy/reality" style of Sim anymore than there is there a "genre/faithful" style of Sim. (To be perfectly honest I don't even really understand what "fantasy/reality" or "genre/faithful means. They are horribly undefined terms.) There is only the "myth" which is both normative and aesthetically bound. What you play using mythic/bricolage is entirely open but you cannot separate out the normative aspect of myth from the aesthetic elements of "myth". Mythic play is by its very nature both a creative and experiential act. We create while dealing with the fictional world holding to the normative power of the myth while constraining our input to the aesthetic but the very act of adding to the myth changes the both the aesthetic and norms - slowly. This means you can bring things into the myth that weren't there originally as longs as the match the "aesthetics" of the myth, i.e., the already existing meaning structures. Thus when playing mythic/bricolage/myth we are not creating a story but are rather expanding the scope of the myth while enjoying do so because we are employing the "aesthetic" we love to do so. Its very personal, very first person, very powerful. Yes the source material can come from many sources which have their genres but myth is myth is myth.

It's about being consistent with what we've established already - treating the details as if they matter - keeping it feeling real.

That's how myth/bricolage works. It is always additive. One must always be mindful of what has happened before - of the myth that is already extant that gives meaning to everything to begin with. The "details" matter in much as they are the carriers of the meaning structures. Shifting or dropped details destroy the myth (and the power of the myth) as everything's meaning is affected by the meaning of everything else. Fitting a new piece into the myth skillfully is the art and creative act of play. The more difficult the problem in making the piece fit the greater the satisfaction. Plus in order for this to function at the meaning level the player must operate at the subjective as opposed to the abstract level. Sim is feels deeply personal because that feeling is a naturally emergent property of myth. Yes the "aesthetic" can vary from table to table and what is being "celebrated" can differ even if using the exact same source material, but there are no hard classifications of play (though there may be dials as in Gamism). It is all myth.

Just because the words are being bandied about could someone please define as a process of play what the real differences between "reality" play and "fantasy" play? In light of myth they make no sense at all so if anyone could help me out by defining these term in how they work in myth I'd be deeply appreciative.

Best,

Jay

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I'm not sure they work in

I'm not sure they work in Mythic Play at all. Your playstyle is rather singular.

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The way I was using the term,

The way I was using the term, I tend to see "simulationism" as a fairly broad (and poorly defined) category. I would consider "mythic bricolage" play to be a much more specific creative agenda within the big vague umbrella of simulationism. Eero's essay linked earlier in this thread (https://www.arkenstonepublishing.net/isabout/2020/05/14/observations-on-...) would give some examples of things that could be considered simulationism (at least, they are not narrativism or gamism), but are almost certainly not mythic bricolage play (as far as I understand it).

Just because the words are being bandied about could someone please define as a process of play what the real differences between "reality" play and "fantasy" play? In light of myth they make no sense at all so if anyone could help me out by defining these term in how they work in myth I'd be deeply appreciative.

As far as those three categories ("reality sim", "fantasy sim", and "genre sim", or whatever terms we prefer), I'd guess that mythic bricolage play falls only within the "genre sim" category. If you are thinking of "simulationism" to be synonymous with mythic bricolage, then that would be why the descriptions of reality sim or fantasy world sim (as distinct from genre sim) sound confusing or self-contradictory.

I would say that "reality sim" is a very different CA than mythic bricolage. It is just confused terminology that we refer to both of them as "simulationism."

To me, an example of "reality sim" would be classic war-gaming. For example, say we set up a scenario to simulate the battle of Waterloo. I'll play as Napoleon, you'll play as the Duke of Wellington, and the other players will play various other people at the battle. Our agenda is to simulate the battle as realistically as possible, to gain further insight into why the battle turned out the way it did, and into the lives of people in the era. The referee will try to run the game as an impartial simulation of the battle. When we choose the rules and mechanics for this game, we don't set it up to be fair and balanced (which would suggest a gamist perspective) -- we'll set it up to be as historically accurate as possible. That means Napoleon will be at an unfair disadvantage (after all, he lost the real battle), but that's OK. Our goal here isn't exactly to "win" the battle of Waterloo in a gamist sense. Sure, I'm playing Napoleon, so I'll try to win, but my real goal is to gain the experience of looking at the battle from Napoleon's perspective. I want to see how war worked in the year 1812.

Simulationism is a terrible name for the CA as it denotes the wrong idea entirely. People are way too hung up on the idea of physics simulations.

My read on this would be that people get hung up on the physics simulations because when they hear simulationism, they're thinking of a reality sim (something like my imaginary Napoleon game), rather than of a genre sim. For the Napoleon game, we want to have the rules be as detailed and accurate as possible while still remaining playable. That probably won't go all the way to simulating bullet physics, but would probably include accurately simulating the range of artillery pieces, the speed of horses over different terrain, and so on.

In practice I think there is a very close link between physics sim and gamism because as soon as you have a detailed reality simulator, it's fun to start trying to exploit it. But they are still different goals that can sometimes be at odds with one another.

Edit to add: I would venture a guess that "reality sim" is more like "Threefold Model simulation" and "genre sim" is more like "Big Model simulationism"

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As I'm trying to dissect

As I'm trying to dissect these different play-styles, I can't help reflecting on the early history of the role-playing hobby. We start with...
- David Wesely - Braunstein - Intended as a reality sim, though not received that way; and it led to...
- Dave Arneson - Blackmoor - A genre sim - to my eyes, very similar in its creative agenda to Jay's game; and it led to...
- Gary Gygax - Greyhawk - Gamism through detailed world simulation; the mold for today's OSR games.

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Genre Sim

Jay:

the idea that a motive for role-play is that a mechanics system can model a type of reality is absurd a priori

I don't understand this. I think it is possible to take pleasure from seeing how a limited amount of mechanics and input can, for instance, produce results of a gunfight that seem to be in the right ballpark, or produce a story that roughly mimics what we deem a typical James Bond movie.

Billy:

My read on this would be that people get hung up on the physics simulations because when they hear simulationism, they're thinking of a reality sim (something like my imaginary Napoleon game), rather than of a genre sim.

I agree that this is a common fallacy. As outlined above, mechanics can also be used to mimic a totally "unrealistic" action move like John Wick. And I'm not just talking about gun physics and absurd competence levels, but also stuff like a hero becoming more effective when he is angry, which could be a formalized mechanic aimed at "simulating" the dramatic developments typical of such movies.

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The Forge Redux - sigh...

Hello,

I'm not sure they work in Mythic Play at all. Your playstyle is rather singular.

I agree it is rather rare but it is certainly not unique. I have, as I have posted on the Forge, found and played in another game that was very similar in process even if different in what was being "celebrated". The game was bog standard fantasy setting but what was important and what was rewarded was very different from out game. There was another poster from long before my time at Story-games who apparently was banned from the site due to some inane PC garbage. However his writings about his game play process tracked very closely to our method of play though the source material was very different. Finally someone from Story-Games.com (I forgot who - forgive my awful memory. I mean no disrespect by forgetting.) shared a quote from Dave Arneson with me about his philosophy of role-play that also tracked very closely to what I've been posting but he didn't have any theory to aid him in his understanding or communications. (Addenda - I forgot the elephant in the room, Archipelago! The first, to my knowledge, commercially published(!) truly Sim supporting RPG) The problem with the Sim CA development over the years is that the role-play hobby grew up out of table-top war games with the idea that deterministic mechanics are absolutely necessary to the hobby baked right in. This unquestioning belief in the absolute necessity of deterministic resolution mechanics followed right though the RGFA boards, was later reified at The Forge and apparently it is still held as unquestioned dogma. What's particularly galling with these zombie theories, which keep being resurrected, is that their proponents never can explain the central observable action of the CA. FREX - Gamism's central prioritized unifying observable action is Address of Challenge. The game may take many unusual forms so different from each other as to be nearly unrecognizable but when you watch the players they prioritize the Address of Challenge both in game and socially. Always remember that a CA is what the players are prioritizing in play. It is observable behavior by definition. I've yet, ever, read any theory of Sim that meets the definition of Creative Agenda. That includes Eero's aforementioned well written essay which comes closer to analyzing the core of the Sim CA than anything I've read outside of Chris Lehrich's articles but he still completely fails to describe the central observable prioritized activity of the players which defines a CA.

...I would venture a guess that "reality sim" is more like "Threefold Model simulation" and "genre sim" is more like "Big Model simulationism...

The root problem with the Threefold Model is that it was based on internal motivations and thus not subject to observation or testing. IOW it did not meet the standards of a Theory. By the methodology of that model a person watching a player could never determine what CA was being played because there were no provisions in the model for observable evidence. IOW - it was useless as a diagnostic or descriptive tool.

- David Wesely - Braunstein - Intended as a reality sim, though not received that way; and it led to...

From what I read the game never met the definition of an RPG and thus cannot be labeled as having a Creative Agenda a priori. It appears his intention was to bring more relevant variables to a table top war game than was usually considered. The players enjoyed playing the other personages but Wesely originally considered the experiment a failure precisely because of the interest in the portrayal of other people rather than how their actions affected the results of the combat. IOW David did not intend his initial experiment to be an RPG but a war game. So whatever a "Reality" Sim is, if David's efforts are representative of it, then "Reality" Sim (as explained so far) doesn't fit the definition of an RPG.

- Dave Arneson - Blackmoor - A genre sim - to my eyes, very similar in its creative agenda to Jay's game; and it led to...

According the quote given to me, Arneson had the right general idea about what constituted Sim play but he didn't label it as such as the idea of CA's had not yet been coined. Yet coming out of table-top games he still couldn't make the final step away from deterministic mechanics. He knew there was a problem with them but he never got to the conclusion as he had no theoretical framework available to him. This is not meant as a knock in anyway. From what I read what he described is the first description of what would later be described as Sim play. For him he was describing how all role-play should be run.

- Gary Gygax - Greyhawk - Gamism through detailed world simulation; the mold for today's OSR games.

Gygax was a Gamist at heart though, again, the idea of CA's was not available at the time. His philosophy was how all RPGs should be played. But don't make the mistake of equating Setting for "World Simulation." (Again - whatever that means because one cannot simulate a world with any fidelity with just die rolling especially given the vastness and sheer complexity of any "reality") Gygax's genius was to port table-top war gaming into an RPG form. Make no mistake, though, there was no "Simulation" going on. He had bumped up Setting as an important flavor to the game but there was no simulation going on.

But lets focus on this whole "Simulation" thing for a moment. In a role-playing game, players are making creative contributions to a greater something (Either some sort of objective measurable advancement system or the creation of a Story). Please explain to me how in a "World Simulation" game how the players creative input creates "World Simulation" because that is how a Creative Agenda is defined. Players sharing ideas that create something that wasn't before. If a "World Simulation" works because the mechanics some how "model reality" where does the players' creative input fit? That fact is that in such a formulation player input does not contribute to creation of the modeling of reality. As has been said to me many times its the mechanics that model reality. Ok - so what observable Creative Act are the players in such a mode of play engaging in? Certainly not the "Model of Reality" because I've been told that's what the mechanics are doing.

So now we're back to the Forge problem of years ago. It was loudly and successfully argued that player input is the beating heart of CA's and thus Role-play. And just like the bad old days at the Forge an exception was made for Sim. No matter how hard I tried to pin down a poster and hold them to the general model of Creative player input being necessary for a CA and for Role-play no one would step up to the plate. They REFUSED to answer the question. I've offered a model that checks all the boxes of a CA and meets the definition of role-play. My theory may be proven wrong and that's cool. But so far no one has offered another model of Sim that prioritizes creative player input to the same level as the other 2 CA's.

Why is Sim constantly treated differently? Why is passive play such a sacred cow? Why do people constantly fight against the established and tested idea of creative player input being necessary and vital to the powerful expression of a CA with regards to Sim? This was the problem I had with the Forge and the problem that I'm running into here. No one is or had offered a model of creative player input that leads to the creation of something new or greater.

Someone, please, explain how these other "types" of Sim play, none of which allow for prioritization of the creative input of the players leading to the "type" of CA being proposed. Players engaged in Mythic/Bricolage do meet the criteria demanded and established for G/N. Players employing Mechanics in an undefined way does not.

Best,

Jay

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My apologies if I am misusing

My apologies if I am misusing terms or rehashing ideas already well refuted on the Forge. I will fully admit that aside from a few threads and essays, my knowledge of Forge theory is limited and mostly second-hand. I am probably not clearly enough distinguishing in my own thought between creative contribution vs internal motivation -- I have some more thoughts, but I probably need to think it through some more to present them in a way that's clear or useful.

I would again recommend Eero's essay from up-thread since he has much more background in the theory and gives some examples of different games and players' contributions to them. I'd be curious to hear your analysis of his analysis, Jay - whether it seems to you like he is coming at the same thing (Simulationism) from a different angle, or a different thing under the same name.

EDIT: I missed the line where you said you did read it - my bad

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Please explain to me how in a

Please explain to me how in a "World Simulation" game how the players creative input creates "World Simulation" because that is how a Creative Agenda is defined. Players sharing ideas that create something that wasn't before. If a "World Simulation" works because the mechanics some how "model reality" where does the players' creative input fit?

No matter how hard I tried to pin down poster and hold them to the general model of Creative player input being necessary for a CA and for Role-play no one would step up to the plate. The REFUSED to answer the question. I've offered a model that checks all the boxes of a CA and meets the definition of role-play.

So as not to REFUSE to answer the question, I'll say my best guess about this ~other~ type of simulationism that may or may not exist.

My speculation is that it is about experimentation. There is interaction between the players (who can freely manipulate part of the world model, i.e., their characters) and the rest of the world model (which theoretically should respond automatically and consistently). There was some discussion about this over on Story-Games where we used the term "Klockwerk" to talk about a detailed world-simulation game.

I would speculate that the player's creative contribution is to try doing something that affects the simulation (motivated by curiosity about the outcome). Then the rules/simulation provides the answer. It's a good creative contribution if it helps sets up a new, intriguing scenario that we have not simulated before. Then we simulate it and we are pleased by seeing the results.

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All the Klockwerk discussion

All the Klockwerk discussion on Story Games was about how it facilitates Gamism though, or how it might be applied to Narrativist games. I don't remember any attempt to link that discussion to Sim play.

I'd really like to see someone with some actual play experience with a "reality sim" (or anything that isn't clearly in the same category as the Mythic/Bricolage stuff) have a go at explaining how/why they think the group was expressing a Simulationist agenda. I found Jay's explanation of why my Trail of Cthulhu game in the other thread wasn't Sim play to be pretty compelling, and wonder if all these GURPS games (or whatever) that people hold up as exemplars of Simulationism wouldn't fall apart the same way.

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No CA tells were included.

Hi Johann,

I don't understand this. I think it is possible to take pleasure from seeing how a limited amount of mechanics and input can, for instance, produce results of a gunfight that seem to be in the right ballpark, or produce a story that roughly mimics what we deem a typical James Bond movie.

It may be possible for the player to take pleasure from the events you described but as you did not include anything about the players' creative input leading to that enjoyment you run into to problems. One of which is very much larger than the other. The first is that as described what transpired could be the result of any CA being expressed. The second and far greater problem is that due to lack of any of tells of what the Players are grooving on and how the Reward Cycle works we have absolutely no clue which CA is being expressed. The example does not show or acknowledge any player input...at all. That has always been and continues to be the enormous problem with Sim theory. Your example, like so many other proffered examples and theories always leaves out the vital play creative input leading to some desired end. In your example what did the players say or do that helped create that "just right gunfight feel"? How did the players help create that "feel" if that is their Agenda? Bear in mind that a CA is NOT defined by its mechanics or Techniques. Its what the players are saying and reacting (positively or negatively) to over a period of time. You'll need to come up with a better example which contains CA tells from the players showing how they are building towards the desired product/end/goal/agenda.

Best,

Jay

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CA tells

James Bond game: The player has his agent recklessly approach and provoke the villain. He can do this regardless of whether it is rewarded by the mechanics or not.
'Realistic' gunfight: The player has his rookie cop prematurely empty his gun, drop his flashlight, or freeze. None of that is typically ordained by the mechanics.

I'd say that the agenda on display would be supported by rules which gave the agent's player tokens for his brazen act or which made gunshot wounds very dangerous. If the villain sensibly ignores or executes the agent (without a speech and elaborate set-up to kill him) or our character is ridiculously sturdy a la Hong Kong action movies (e.g. hundreds of 'hit' points), this would detract from the game.

Admittedly, an observer could not be 100% sure of what's going on, but over time, such decisions would point towards Simulationism. I would consider them creative contributions, though identifying the reward cycle is tricky. Fanmail a la PTA, Inspiration as per D&D 5e, XP for good roleplay etc. come to mind, but with the exception of PTA, these mechanical rewards are typically some sort of bonus and not at the core of the game.

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Some AP

The examples above were rather theoretical. Let me add some AP:

Our party infiltrated and successfully sabotaged the ritual of a cult. However, they were exposed due to some bad die rolls. Furthermore, my character failed to get away. I had him beg for his life -- while simultaneously telling the GM that I expected my PC to die (i.e. I, the player, was not begging for the PC to be spared, but was portraying him as human rather than an action hero or fanatic). As far as I recall, the GM provided a suitably grisly death scene and I got some positive feedback.

I have witnessed a player sending his unbending paladin/cleric PC to seemingly certain death -- secure in the knowledge that the railroad adventure would expect just that and have an interesting, foreshadowed, credible etc. way to save the character after all. This was not done in contempt of railroading (Let's see how you keep the story on rails NOW!) but trusting the module and the GM. This impressed the other players who were all on autopilot, i.e. trying to survive rathter than play their PCs to the hilt.

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Hi Billy,

Hi Billy,

So as not to REFUSE to answer the question, I'll say my best guess about this ~other~ type of simulationism that may or may not exist.

My speculation is that it is about experimentation. There is interaction between the players (who can freely manipulate part of the world model, i.e., their characters) and the rest of the world model (which theoretically should respond automatically and consistently).

Thank you for trying to rise to the challenge. You offered "experimentation" as a Creative goal. OK. What part of the game are the players experimenting on, the mechanics or the SIS? If its the mechanics then the players are not engaged in the process of Exploration which includes interacting with the SIS on its own terms. What is their creative input and how does that communicated input collectively lead to the building towards whatever their hypothetical goal? How does their INPUT lead to what ever is being created (FREX - a story or greater effectiveness in the game)? What are the mechanical and social rewards for effective input? IOW what creative input is being celebrated for being considered well done as measured by the table aesthetic for furthering the Creative goal?

Also do consider that during the expression of every CA there is going to have to be some "experimentation" going on as players test theses in the act of pursuing their creative goal or end.

There was some discussion about this over on Story-Games where we used the term "Klockwerk" to talk about a detailed world-simulation game.

I remember the discussion as I coined the term Klockwerk. Aik has the right of it so I'll let his response stand for mine.

I'd be curious to hear your analysis of his analysis, Jay - whether it seems to you like he is coming at the same thing (Simulationism) from a different angle, or a different thing under the same name.

I printed out Eero's essay and it came out to some 20 pages. I've been reading and re-reading it for some time. I don't have the energy or skill to write such a lengthy and coherent reply. Frankly I'm a bit daunted by the prospect and I'm not sure he'd be interested in such a lengthy response. But I am mulling it over. Perhaps I'll get my act together and write something that makes sense.

Best,

Jay

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I miss Eero.

I miss Eero.

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Hear! Hear!

Hear! Hear!

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Sim and Real

As Billy, I have a concept of "consistency" held very close to Sim. For people who care about the fabric of the myth, how it is made, continued and preserved. Like Eero, I have found that the distinction between genre, setting, etc. is important to the players, but in theory, it is easily collapsable when you need to.
I want to add a bit about Realism, as it is often lost in english translation and this muddles all discussions about Simulation. Klokwerk for instance, cares about ontological realism : that the fabric is "there", palpable, autonomously existent. Whereas a physics simulator wants to "feel" realistic, and it's totally OK if it's only make believe, if the feeling is right. I suspect that the near hegemony of aesthetic realism in US narrative production (and the near hegemony of US cinema in the world) makes it a "blind spot" to many. And don't start me on "gritty realistic" RPGs..

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DeReel reminded me...

Hello,

DeReel your post reminded me about the arguments and the ultimate position at the Forge regarding "realism". It was communally decided that there was no ontological measure of "realism" in role-play, just that which the players at the table collectively agreed, explicitly or implicitly, was plausible. We are subjective beings by nature, each with our own subject maps of reality. There might be an objective reality but because of the distorting effects of our senses and our cognitive processes we only have our interpretation of said objective reality. Thus to speak of a "realism" in a constructed reality (a game) is pure farce. The best that we can hope for is a "reality" that comports with our understanding or aesthetics and be pleased or displeased by what is happening in game.

(Johann - I haven't forgotten your posts! They did provide the information I asked and I thank you very deeply for taking the time to write them.)

Best,

Jay

Edited - to give credit to the correct poster. My apologies to DeReel.

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" Thus to speak of a "realism

" Thus to speak of a "realism" in a constructed reality (a game) is pure farce" echoes with "the idea that a motive for role-play is that a mechanics system can model a type of reality is absurd a priori". I disagree with this stance : on the contrary, it is very important that we have a concept for "ontological realism" in RPGs. We don't need to assert that the thing exists or that a model be "true to life" for these to be valid concepts.

Pretend play is based on treating fiction "as if it were real". You need both "as if" ;) and "real" to understand it. In a nutshell : to speak of a "ontological realism" in RPG fiction is as necessary to theory as it would be delusional to believe in it.

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Another Type of Safety?

Hi, I really-really hope it is okay to tackle a different aspect of the original post, but I feel like the definition for safety there (a safe game is one that does not make you vulnerable) is quite at odds with how I feel about safety in games. Because, umm, I aim to get vulnerable in games and I want to get vulnerable with my co-participants (as long as they are on board with it). In the Nordic discourse it is related to a concept called "positive negative experience" – I enjoy the game more when the experience is uncomfortable for myself and for my character. And I feel like the definition for safety offered in the original post kinda misses my style of play. For me games are about trust, and trust is the basis for safety. Another type of safety, in other words, might be the safety to trust my co-participants in order to be vulnerable with them as long as they are on board with the whole thing. Does that make sense?

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My response to Johann was eaten.

Hi Johann,

I spent several hours responding to your 2 posts but for some reason when I hit the save button the screen refreshed and indicated that I was not logged in. My post was not saved. I'm too frustrated and worn out to reconstruct right now. My apologies.

Best,

Jay

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I found my response to Johann!

(Firefox rawks! My post was gone and didn't post but by going back pages it opened the page I was posting on WITH the contents in the text field still populated!)

Hello Johann,

I really appreciate you making the time and effort to reply to my request for more information.

James Bond game: The player has his agent recklessly approach and provoke the villain. He can do this regardless of whether it is rewarded by the mechanics or not

You are correct in that a PC can do something whether or not it is rewarded by mechanics. This is why mechanics and rules are not used to diagnose what CA is being expressed by the players. Mechanics and rules can be written to encourage and hopefully facilitate the expression of a CA but CA is what the players are doing. One of the interesting results of this is that players can be playing a Narrativist facilitating game system and still be Stepping On Up. It may not be smooth or be particularly satisfying but it goes to show that mechanics do not a CA make. Because of this it was also shown that all reward systems are ultimately social in nature. So again when speaking of the reward cycle of a game we are looking at how the players are responding to player choices. Are the players high-fiving, hooting, jumping up and down, back thumping, etc., each other or are they bored, disinterested or actively upset/hostile. We then need to watch what is happening in game to illicit these behaviors. This is why sussing out a CA can take a fairly long time to diagnose. We need to see a behavior repeated numerous times to pick out the cause of the expression of social rewards.

I'd say that the agenda on display would be supported by rules which gave the agent's player tokens for his brazen act or which made gunshot wounds very dangerous.

The logic of this does not follow. There are plenty of games that are not Sim that where gunshot wounds are very dangerous. The same could be said for rewarding brazen acts. Again we run back into the issue that mechanics do not a CA make. We need to go back and see what the players are responding to in a positive and socially rewarding way.

If the villain sensibly ignores or executes the agent (without a speech and elaborate set-up to kill him) or our character is ridiculously sturdy a la Hong Kong action movies (e.g. hundreds of 'hit' points), this would detract from the game.

This is the closest statement to coming to understanding the Sim CA. Here you've left mechanics behind and are now talking about the aesthetic of the fictional game world. Here you're talking about the subjective judgment by the players of another player's actions and its affect on the totality of the game aesthetic (which is the normative nature of myth). Players making creative choices that are consistent with the source material aesthetic and normative patterns sans rules and mechanics. The failure to match (or add) to this aesthetic subjectively detracts from the players subjective personal enjoyment of the game! Not mechanics but the players are deciding what is good/aesthetically pleasing and also lies within the boundaries of what is acceptable or not acceptable to the enjoyment of the game. That is Sim. This is the most important, spot on statement you've offered about how Sim works.

Our party infiltrated and successfully sabotaged the ritual of a cult. However, they were exposed due to some bad die rolls. Furthermore, my character failed to get away. I had him beg for his life -- while simultaneously telling the GM that I expected my PC to die (i.e. I, the player, was not begging for the PC to be spared, but was portraying him as human rather than an action hero or fanatic). As far as I recall, the GM provided a suitably grisly death scene and I got some positive feedback.

You're definitely giving some strong Sim tells here but there is not enough material here to make a definitive in the assessment.

I have witnessed a player sending his unbending paladin/cleric PC to seemingly certain death -- secure in the knowledge that the railroad adventure would expect just that and have an interesting, foreshadowed, credible etc. way to save the character after all. This was not done in contempt of railroading (Let's see how you keep the story on rails NOW!) but trusting the module and the GM. This impressed the other players who were all on autopilot, i.e. trying to survive rathter than play their PCs to the hilt.

This is a difficult example because the very nature of "railroading" (aka player deprotagonization) means that player input is ignored which is the dead opposite definitionally of the expression of a Creative Agenda. In order for there to be a CA a player's input has to matter and affect the game. Railroading totally nullifies Creative Agenda. According the example above due to "railroading" the player input is relegated to that of Color and nothing more.

Best,

Jay

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Well said thaidivone!

Hi thaidivone,

I concur with and wholeheartedly agree with your usage of "safety". In the game I play in to reach the levels of emotional power we frequently do requires us to feel totally safe with the DM and the other players at the table. Point in fact we have a rule both in and out of game that no one is allowed to bang on a player's decisions or choices made during play. The penalties are severe and if behavior is not changed the offending player is ejected from the group. We are dead serious about creating a safe environment for the players to totally let everything hang out emotionally.

Best,

Jay

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Exploring system as a Simulationist goal

@Thaidivone: That's a good point about Safety. There's certainly a valid desire for "positive negative experiences" (cf. Aristotelian drama theory or the popularity of horror movies, for instance).

Let me clarify a few things:

(1) I think that all sorts of games can profit from deadly rules for gunfights. For instance, a gamist design might thereby offer a lot of challenge. I was pointing out that for Simulationist players interested in 'realistic' fights, a deadly system would be a good fit, too (though that's for different reasons).

(2) I also think that an interest in 'realism' or playing one's character to the hilt (e.g. knowingly walking into a death trap as a paladin) are potentially of interest in all CAs. Eero put it nicely regarding gamism (my emphasis):

"the question is not whether you could win at a GM's obstacle course by stacking rules and positioning to your favour, the question is whether you can triumph against a challenge chosen and internalized by yourself within the fictional constraints, partially unspoken, that determine whether your play is petty or compelling. Not whether you can build a knight that can slay a dragon, but whether a knight as per your understanding of knighthood can slay a dragon."

However, I have seen a lot of gamist play treating the PCs as mere playing pieces, i.e. the question was "What would be the optimal thing a human combatant with these physical traits could do in this situation?" rather than "What would be the optimal thing THIS human with this personality could do in this situation?" Hence, I think tactically suboptimal play is generally a strong indicator - but not proof - of a Simulationist agenda.

(3) I do not believe that railroading nullifies Creative Agenda, except if taken to a purely theoretical extreme where the GM makes all choices. Usually, the GM controls certain parts of the game (where you go, who you fight, who will win) but there is plenty of stuff the players can contribute. Eero's essay includes a very interesting treatment of the issue (the gist being that a GM concentrating on hiding the tracks is wasting his time -- he should be concentrating on making the trip worthwhile).

But back to my main point: exploring system as a Simulationist agenda.

Let's say you're interested in playing out 'realistic gunfights' because, say, you want to understand the factors and dynamics involved, or want to feel what it was like on Omaha Beach. You've played some Boot Hill and found it lacking. Then you encounter Phoenix Command by Leading Edge Games. It differentiates between a .38 and a 9 mm round (What the hell?) and does not just determine hit location but has (optional) tables to determine a bullet's path through the human body. I think seeing this system in play, learning to handle it correctly and smoothly, would (partially) fulfill the above goals (though there may honestly be better ways to go about this in my opinion).

The creative contributions of the players consist of the following:
A. Celebrating those results which resonate with them, i.e. passing judgement and expressing enthusiasm etc. ("a gut wound does not take hours to kill you like in the movies -- Phoenix Command gets it right"). This does not directly impact the shared imagined space, but I would still consider it an expression of CA. It's especially telling if system is celebrated (or booed) when the results are not in line with the desires of the PCs (e.g. when we celebrate the bleeding out rules even though it's a PC dying). The player also shine the spotlight on the aspects of the SIS which they value.
B. Making choices in keeping with the goals ("They killed Kenny!? I empty my magazine into the Nazi bunker. Oh my, I'm using the full-auto rules, right? Let's see how that turns out!").

I think grooving on a particular system can be an expression of a Simulationist agenda.

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Poor understand of Creative Agenda

Hello Johann,

(1) I think that all sorts of games can profit from deadly rules for gunfights. For instance, a gamist design might thereby offer a lot of challenge. I was pointing out that for Simulationist players interested in 'realistic' fights, a deadly system would be a good fit, too (though that's for different reasons).

Your argument here is circular. For those whose aesthetics leans to the type of fight that they think of as "realistic" will appreciate a system that helps the game present an experience that to that player "feels" realistic to him/her. Yes any player expressing any CA who wants a combat experience that "feels" realistic to said player will appreciate a combat system that closely matches their personal tastes. That has nothing to do with Simulationism in any specific way. Second what "feels" realistic to one player may not "feel" realistic to another and is entirely subjective. That is neither good or bad, indicative of any CA or not, it just is. You may want to read the rules for Archipelago. It is the only published Sim supporting game that I've even seen and it is quite eye opening how it works.

However, I have seen a lot of gamist play treating the PCs as mere playing pieces, i.e. the question was "What would be the optimal thing a human combatant with these physical traits could do in this situation?" rather than "What would be the optimal thing THIS human with this personality could do in this situation?" Hence, I think tactically suboptimal play is generally a strong indicator - but not proof - of a Simulationist agenda.

You draw incorrect conclusions here. A person could be playing a Nar CA and by not choosing sub-optimal actions can be Addressing Premise. Also consider that a player might be playing Miyamoto Musashi or Sir William Marshal or even a very competent warrior type. Such a player would attempt to make the very best decisions they can so as to role-play the character as best they can. Suppose a Sim CA expressing player was just not a good tactician even if they were playing a super competent warrior? The point is that how effective a player is at combat is no way indicative of CA expression. In the game I play in every Player fights to the absolute limits of their ability as informed by their character's skill set or they will be crushed. This has nothing to do with Stepping On Up but rather in keeping with the reality of our fictional world which is extremely dangerous. Anything less than a 100% effort will end in disaster.

However, I have seen a lot of gamist play treating the PCs as mere playing pieces...

This is known as the Hard Core variant of Gamist play. As you indicated it is not an uncommon form of Gamist play.

(3) I do not believe that railroading nullifies Creative Agenda, except if taken to a purely theoretical extreme where the GM makes all choices. Usually, the GM controls certain parts of the game (where you go, who you fight, who will win) but there is plenty of stuff the players can contribute...

When the GM takes away important decisions or nullifies player input then definitionally the CA is being nullified. If the players have no interest in the example topics your listed then that's not "Railroading". Definitionally "Railroading" which is better known as Player Deprotagonization is the process by which the GM either hides choices from players that they do have an interest in or the GM ignores choices or input that players have made and have an interest in. So the example you offered of Railroading is not Railroading because the players don't care. Their input or choices are not being voided. From what I've been reading I'm not certain that you understand just what a Creative Agenda is. Since I don't know but am getting negative signals I'll provide the definition so that we're all on the same page.

Creative Agenda (CA)

The aesthetic priorities and any matters of imaginative interest regarding role-playing. Three distinct Creative Agendas are currently recognized: Step On Up (Gamist), The Right to Dream (Simulationist), and Story Now (Narrativist). This definition replaces all uses of "Premise" in GNS and other matters of role-playing theory aside from the specific Creative Agenda of Narrativist play. Creative Agenda is expressed using all Components of Exploration, but most especially System.

Again - if the players have no imaginative interest in how they get to a location or who wins a fight then the DM determining such events is NOT Railroading. However if the DM does run roughshod over matters of aesthetic priorities or matters of imaginative interest then the players' CA expression is being nullified.

CA is expressed during Exploration -

The imagination of fictional events, established through communicating among one another. Exploration includes five Components: Character, Setting, Situation, System, and Color.

The entities doing the imagining and communicating are the players. Not the mechanics. Mechanics help flavor the game experience and help determine whose statement gets credibility but they do not determine CA in any way, shape or form.

A. Celebrating those results which resonate with them, i.e. passing judgement and expressing enthusiasm etc. ("a gut wound does not take hours to kill you like in the movies -- Phoenix Command gets it right"). This does not directly impact the shared imagined space, but I would still consider it an expression of CA.

No. Its not. Celebrating a result (or more accurately stated - The celebration of a player's input being given credibility to enter the SIS) is not the sum total of a CA. In fact it is just a minor part of the CA expression process. The greater part is the players creative input leading to the creation of a greater whole (story, in game play effectiveness, expansion of the myth.) You example makes the players consumers not creators. It fails to meet the definition of Creative Agenda....again. Players express Creative Agenda by creating. Players finding an event aesthetically pleasing is a necessary component of CA expression but it is not sufficient to meet the definition.. The first and most important part is the players creative input. So, how in your example, did the players creative input lead to satisfying creation of something of more (myth as I'm proposing). What are you claiming that the players are creating through their creative input because, again, I'm not seeing player input being offered in the example. Note - that by player input I'm referring to the players creative input into the Shared Imagined Space.

B. Making choices in keeping with the goals ("They killed Kenny!? I empty my magazine into the Nazi bunker. Oh my, I'm using the full-auto rules, right? Let's see how that turns out!").

I'm totally lost here. Just what are the "goals"? You write about players making a choice but then drop that thread of the conversation to talk about mechanics. If the goal of Sim is "The Right to Dream" (a phrase that I despise) how does stepping out of the Dream support the Dream? You can't and it doesn't work. Definitionally it is impossible to "Explore" system. Exploration is the communication of imaginings among players using Character, Setting, Conflict, Color and System. System is used as part of a tool set so that players can engage in the act of Exploration - i.e., the communicating of imaginings in a highly ritualized manner. If one is focusing on Mechanics use as the reason and goal to play then definitionally said player is not engaged in role-play and is thus not expressing ANY CA.

Best,

Jay

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Disagreement on discourse / Forge theory

@Jay
I feel as if I am saying "The sky is blue" and you answer "No, it's azure" or "No, 'blue' is an arbitrary concept." One of several examples: I put 'realism' in quotation marks throughout, acknowledging that it's a loaded term. You ignored this, used a specific, rigorous definition and then found fault with my use.

I also find your reading of Forge theory to be exceedingly narrow. One of several examples: You seem to think of deprotagonisation as a binary phenomenon.

I'm not going to provide more examples or elaborate because I'm not up for this kind of discussion.

No harm done, though: I'm satisfied with the thread -- I learned something, discarded my initial theory, and am happy with my examples. I'm pretty confident of my understanding of basic Forgite theory and disagree with yours, but for the reasons above I am not going to take this any further.

Feel free to continue the thread, everyone, maybe I'll chime in on some other points.

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Not narrower but fuller and more robust

Hi Johann,

I'm sorry that I was not able to explain myself in a clearer manner. For that I take full responsibility for my failings.

I'm not expecting a response as you've clearly stated you've moved on but for posterity's sake and clarity I do wish to reply to your excellent analogy of how you felt the conversation was handled on my part. I too will use an analogy and hopefully shed some light on both where I was coming from and why we weren't communicating fruitfully.

I feel as if I am saying "The sky is blue" and you answer "No, it's azure" or "No, 'blue' is an arbitrary concept." One of several examples: I put 'realism' in quotation marks throughout, acknowledging that it's a loaded term. You ignored this, used a specific, rigorous definition and then found fault with my use.

This is all analogy here so we'll see if anything fruitful will be available to those who come after.

I would posit, by analogy, that we were both talking about "oranges." The arguments offered on your side felt akin as if you were saying that anything that was the hue "orange" and circular in shape was all that was needed to identify the object as the common citrus fruit "Citrus sinensis" aka the common Orange. My arguments were geared towards saying, no, that a circle with the hue of "orange" is not enough to identify an object as the fruit "Citrus sinensis". Yes your "orange" hue is common with the fruit and while a disc does share some qualities with a sphere that definition does not cover all the other very necessary qualities that identify an object as the fruit "Citrus sinensis".

In the end the two objects the orange hued disc and the fruit "Orange" are not the same for a great many reasons. So we were not in a blue/azure misunderstanding we were in a very fundamental disagreement that just because two objects share a common word they are not close to being the same thing at all. That is was the fundamental thesis of my argument.

Yes, I understand you were using the word realism in quotes for the purpose of communicating a vague idea but the problem is realism was argued and shown to be a very confusing and ultimately not useful word or idea with respect to role-play theory discussions. However the word "realism" appeared to my readings (which could have been in error) an important unpinning in your definition of a CA despite how poorly the word has been demonstrated to be over the years as a tool for theory discussion. This became a major problem when being used as part of a proffered definition of a CA. An example of another word that is terrible to use for theory discussion (one I'm clearly asserting that you did not use) is "immersion." It too is poorly defined and thus everyone has their own take on what it means leading to conversations that go nowhere because the participants have no common based with which to converse.

Re-reading my posts I can see how I overstated my case regarding deprotagonization and CA expression. You're right that a single or a small number of instances of player deprotagonization does not lead to the complete and utter hindrance of CA effective expression. I should have been clearer. On the whole player deprotagonization weakens the ability of the players ability to express their CA effectively and enjoyably. One or a few instances does not destroy that expression of a game utterly. However, each moment of player deprotagonization does prevent the player from expressing his CA for that particular moment of play. Does that mean that the players have not been able to enjoyably express their CA as a whole during the play session? No. Does that mean that the players had no fun? No. Does it mean that some opportunities for enjoyable play were lost? Probably, but it doesn't mean the players were robbed of a night's fun due to a few instances of deprotagonization.

Mea maxima culpa for poorly and over strongly stating my case on regarding that particular topic.

However my readings about Forge theory are not "overly narrow." The fact is that the Forge's ultra narrow focus on mechanics specifically had made, and continues to make, fruitful progress on the understanding of the Sim CA nearly impossible. However my usage of the general theory elements and vocabulary is fairly bog standard Forge usage. In fact I spend a great deal of effort calling people out on the inconsistent or contradictory usage of Forge theory and it is almost always done so with regards to Sim. Nobody argues that "exploring" Setting without a Character (FREX) or Address of Premise ought to fall in the Narrativist CA category. Yet posters constantly argue that, yes, the Sim CA can include a game mode of just "Exploring" System even when that particular usage of Exploration is demonstrably at odds with the glossed definition of what Exploration means. That is not a "narrow" reading of the definition of Exploration but the vanilla reading. Even Eero took the time on Story-games to describe what Exploration means on Story-Games long ago and if I could Google it I would present the link. If memory serves he likened Exploration to a play stage with all the necessary parts ready to support the play production. As such one cannot the Explore, say, the "lighting" devices which are a part of the production efforts supporting the production of a plays as the play itself. This is understood in Gamist and Narrativist role-play as settled yet a double standard is consistently applied in the discussion of the Sim CA.

This double standard I will call out whenever I see it being used because it is death to progress to Sim theory development. It's like the standards of understanding role-play are thrown out the window whenever Sim is discussed and I am thoroughly baffled why people who post this way seem to be blind to this contradiction.

Best,

Jay

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Since Archipelago has gotten

Since Archipelago has gotten name-checked repeatedly as a solidly Sim supporting game, maybe you, Jay, would like to break that out a bit.

Mind you, I agree completely on that point about Archipelago ( although our reasons might not align 100%).

Since Archipelago really does point to one direction that Sim-supportive bundles of mechanics could take, I really do think that everyone interested in the topic should take the 30 minutes or so, tops, that it takes to read those rules. It could make this discussion a whole lot more fruitful.

AFAIK, the rules are still free and online legitimately.

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