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Gaming: What's in it for YOU?

 Post subject: Gaming: What's in it for YOU?
PostPosted: Mon Oct 03, 2005 9:14 pm 
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Unctuous Toady
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I'm all the time thinking about how miniature games are designed. With the specific purpose of one day designing my own miniature game. I came upon this theory for understanding what different people like/enjoy about role-playing games.

The article linked below is by Ron Edwards and is rather theoretical. I want to use it as a starting point to discuss the GNS Theory as it might apply to miniature games. I'm not so interested in discussing role-playing games, even though that is what the article is about.

Briefly the article breaks down the objectives that people have when they role-play. Because people don't understand the different objects/methods in the GNS model they often have incompatable goals with regard to role-playing. You can see this in miniature gaming as well.

The three profiles are:

    Gamism is expressed by competition among participants (the real people); it includes victory and loss conditions for characters, both short-term and long-term, that reflect on the people's actual play strategies. The game's elements provide an arena for the competition.

    Simulationism is expressed by enhancing one or more of the elements of character, system, setting, situation, color; in other words, Simulationism heightens and focuses Exploration as the priority of play. The players may be greatly concerned with the internal logic and experiential consistency of that Exploration.

    Narrativism is expressed by the creation, via role-playing, of a story with a recognizable theme. The characters are formal protagonists in the classic Lit 101 sense, and the players are often considered co-authors. The listed elements provide the material for narrative conflict (again, in the specialized sense of literary analysis).


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Got all that? If not, or if you want to delve deeper, here is the link to the article:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/1/

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 03, 2005 10:21 pm 
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So what's your question?

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 03, 2005 11:45 pm 
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Rhetoric? :)


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2005 7:24 am 
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Unctuous Toady
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What? Must I spoon feed all of you?

Okay, how about the most obvious, do you consider yourself more of Gamist, Narrativist, or Simulationist?

Also, of the three profiles which do you think your game group adheres to?

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2005 7:52 am 
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My group mainly uses gamism. I can tell some of the members do get into both the simulation and narrative aspects of our games, but I still believe in the end our group tends to be more about gamism. What is best in gaming? To crush your enimies, to see them driven before and to hear the lamentation of the Mt. Dew!


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2005 8:11 am 
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I would say that Gamism is common in the whole field of miniature wargaming. Probably just because many people never even considered the game more than just that, a game.

Does anyone think how miniature game could be constructed around one of the other two goals?

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2005 3:01 pm 
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Excellent find Truckler. I'm going to have to take a look at that article more in depth.

Honestly, I don't think these are conflicting drives in a game at all. In fact, if done right, I think all three of these are mutually supportive. For instance, simulationism, as I understand it is focused on the internal logic of the world, and the way the world of the game works. Good games mirror this internal logic in the mechanics of the game rules. This is mutually reenforcing, because the imparitives of a balanced rule-set help to create a balanced game world with no cheesy super-ultimate weapons that level worlds in the blink of an eye. Conversely, a well thought-out world demands interesting rules to mechanically reflect the way the world works.

Similarly, when you have a rich world and a rules set to mirror and match, narriativeism naturally arises. Narriative is key for rich experiences, but IMO there is nothing worse than people who approach a game like a book--that is, where they know where things begin and where they end, and where the players are on rails the whole way along. However, when the story is allowed to emerge from the way the game plays out--that is, depending on the dice rolls and what they reflect in the world--succeed or fail, you get a much richer experience.

Conversely, having a narriative leading up to the game serves to focus and orient and inform the overall feel of the game. If you have the exact two armies facing off, the story that emerges out of the game differs depending on whether it is the first tentative encounter of a war, or if it is the final, climatic fight that will decide the fate of the planet. Either way, it is certain to be a richer game than a couple-dozen hunks of plastic and two guys rolling dice.

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Does anyone think how miniature game could be constructed around one of the other two goals?


This is a good question: here are my thoughts--

Narritivism can be brought out by tying games together. One of the things that makes a wargame feel like it is just a game is that, when the fighting is done, you set you dead back up, shuffle around some terrain, and start the next game. This disconnection between games makes it so that no overarching story can arise.

A potential solution, then, would be a soldly thought out campaign system that mixes narriative elements with gamism elements. The campaign could be its own mini-game by making the moves between games impact the games themselves, providing advantage and disadvantage on the battlefield.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 05, 2005 9:04 am 
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Auzure, I figured that you would appreciate the article. I tend to agree that the three elements are often present in successful/good gaming situations. However I urge you to read the article. My initial thought was much as yours seem to be. I mean, isn't good gaming about having the various diverse aspects of play in balance?

The author of the GNS Theory states that the three profiles are mutually exclusive and he makes a strong case. The difficulty of the whole discussion for us is that we are trying to apply the principles to miniature games. But I think it is do-able. Anyway, he gives some examples and I'll try and paraphrase/restate them.

Imagine a game (role-playing or otherwise) where you have players who control a royal successor to the vacant position of king. The players would compete with one another in the game to achieve the ultimate objective of being crowned the new king. The game is Gamist, but the setup and execution of it involve strong narrative aspects. It is what the author refers to as Narrativism in the service of Gamism.

Or you could have a game where role-playing (communication and acting in character) were central. Say the party was on some epic quest. Generally the players would behave in a very Simulationist manner, with their characters being limited to strictly the knowledge that they themselves had and not acting on player knowledge. But if there was an unstated and shared goal to work through the quest then a number of subtle violations of pure Simulationism, in favor of Narrativism, could creep in. Suppose that all the players agreed outside of the game not to have thier characters fight one another. This cooperation could easily be in violation of a more realistic simulation of what would happen when a group of characters with drastically different races, cultures, alignments, etc come together for a shared objective. Similarly, since Narrativism is dominant you would see things like players making decisions that weren't completely faithful to their characters, but which moved the plot along.

You can have any one of the three profiles served by one of the others. And in most cases, all three are present to some degree. But that doesn't change the fact that one of the three is dominant in a specific game or campaign.

I think the three profiles shed a tremendous amount of light on the problems of the gaming hobby as a whole. For instance 40K 4th Edition, is obviously designed with Gamism as the favored profile, it is meant for competitive tournament play. However, the ethos and culture that the GW design staff wish to propogate is not strictly gamist. That's why you have calls to make army lists that are fluffy and such. Fluffyness is a decidedly Simulationist attitude. The question of fluff is essentially, "Is this army (or whatever) true to the fictional world of 40K?"

Of the three profiles Simulationism is the most diverse. Just because two players are motivated by Simulationist goals doesn't mean they will agree. In fact, I find most of the disagreements about 40K to arrise from differences of Simulationists (or people arguing simulationist positions).

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 05, 2005 9:12 pm 
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Truckler wrote:
What? Must I spoon feed all of you?


I was (trying) to be cute. What I meant was that I have stated many times that I am primarily a gamer. It was kind of a "you should know better than to have to ask" thing.

Heh, guess I had to spoon feed you, Truckler.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2005 6:54 pm 
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I have not read the entire article but I will try to get around to it. Looking at my overall gaming experience in miniatures games, RPGs and MMORPGs... I would say that I'm a Simulationist.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2005 8:35 pm 
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I'd have to say I'm deeply into Narrativism - it's all about the story. A good game is one that tells a good story, with you a part of the world.

But Simulationism is also very important for me. Doing things that are illogical, unreasonable, or just OOC for any reason is not good, it ruins the "reality". For this reason, I am not fond of game systems that have rules that totally defy logic.

Gamism does not make a good RPG - or anything with a campaign. If I wanted to Game, I'd play 40K4 or D&D. They're all about beating up your opponents, and nothing else.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 07, 2005 2:35 am 
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I have read the article now. It often seems to me that people who come up with systems for organizing and quantifying human behavior are very keen to pigeonhole everyone and every behavior into a neat catagory and insist that everything must fit. In this case, the author seems to be saying that a good RPG experience is obtained by finding a group of people who share your Premise (G, N or S) and play a game with a matching Premise. Games that try to satisfy multiple Premises are incoherent and less fun for everyone.

I'm not sure I believe that myself. I don't generally believe in systems that classify human behavior into tidy predictable categories. Humans change their behavior and preferences as they interact with each other and their environment. I have enjoyed all three premises in different games, and I've been in groups that played the same game in radically different ways. This article seems to suggest that I could not really have been happy in these situations because I was playing the wrong premise for myself or for the game.

Example:
One of the people who often GM's in my gaming group is strongly gamist and tends to run combat-oriented treasure hunts using D&D. (We are greatly befuddled when he presents us with a problem that can't be hacked to death with swords.) For these games you can expect to spend a lot of time in combat and you better learn to enjoy it. I don't find min-maxed combat-monger characters to be especially attractive and I normally don't make them, but I can still have fun in these games.
A couple of years ago I had a long-running character who was a foppish swashbucker type who's true goal was to look dashing in front of the ladies (or anyone else present) and maintain the most extravagant lifestyle possible. I developed a flamboyant fighting style for him and used it to show off and perform some pretty amazing feats in combat, even if he didn't contribute hugely to the party's overall damage. He was a fighter/mage ransuer expert with five attacks of opportunity per round, Improved Disarm and a selection of spells chosen specifically to make him look faster, stronger and more skilled than he really was. I seriously min/maxed to make this character concept work, but he was a lot of fun to play, even in straight combat in a dungeon crawl.
Was I "using gamism to serve simulationism"? Maybe you could call it that, but I think you could also say that you get out of a game what you put in to it, and any person can find just about anything in a game... even if they have to put it there themselves.

I do agree with the article on many points though, including the idea that gamism doesn't have to be bad for an RPG. In our gamist campaigns we are strongly team-oriented, with the GM/world as opponent. The characters work together to overcome challenges and nobody in the group is really comfortable with serious character rivalries. Working together against a common foe is a far different environment than a bunch of min-maxers trying to screw each other to come out on top, but both are defined as gamism in this system.

I don't know how well this system applies to any miniatures game. 3rd Edition D&D, with it's heavy emphasis on miniatures rules for combat, does make a case that both types of games can be mixed or combined. However, 40K has always been a game about battles, and they have winners and losers. Even if you the player want more than just to win, if you are being honest in your simulation or narrative, the "characters" do want to win and that is the gamist goal they must play towards.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 07, 2005 2:58 am 
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Venator wrote:
It often seems to me that people who come up with systems for organizing and quantifying human behavior are very keen to pigeonhole everyone and every behavior into a neat catagory and insist that everything must fit.


I know this is a bit of topic, but what you said here is very true. I am very interested in psychology, and there is a definate tendancy for people - even very educated and experiance psycologists - to point to a single factor and proclaim it as the origon of a behavior. Neatness and order are taught in most scientific study programs, but the human mind is anything but neat and orderly (even those of us with OCD). I get sidetracked by this all the time. When it comes to people, there's no right answer, just a jumble of influences.

In short, I agree with you here. I think most people have a mix of things they like. For instance, as I have said I am primarily a gamer. I like the backround, but I am certainly willing to sacrifice that for a more playable game. Simulation comes last for me. But I have an interest in all three groups to some degree.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 07, 2005 10:03 pm 
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The point of the article is not to categorize gamers into different groups, but rather to understand and improve gaming through analysis. The author specifically mentions that he does not intend nor wish for the three profiles to be used to label people. The profiles appear in the mostly unconcious objectives of different gamers. The conflict between these different objectives causes much of the problems that arrise in any gaming situation.

Certainly you can't have an RPG that doesn't contain some part of all three of the factors. Perhaps you could have a wargame that lacked narrativism or even simulation. But games like 40K, Necromunda or Battletech are tightly connected to a fully fleshed out background and setting. The units/models involved tend to be personalities with their own motives acting in a highly detailed world.

Having read this article a person should gain a good deal of insight into both game design and the problems that plaque gaming in general. Specifically many online disputes or arguements can be better understood with GNS Theory as a tool.

Any of the arguements and flamewars that have raged here and else where online concerning rules can be better understood using this model. Recently in another section of this forum Battletech was discussed. In that game they came out with amazing new technology for the clans, but it was supposed to be offset by the honor system that the clans lived by. This caused problems in the battletech community. Could this have been fixed if the designers of battletech had better understood GNS Theory? What might a better solution have looked like? Your answer will give insight into where your personal priorities with regard to GNS lie.

What about the different additions of 40K? Does each one correspond to a certain GNS objective/profile? I think so. But you tell me.

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 08, 2005 12:01 pm 
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BattleTech
The Clans and Level 2 Technology brought problems to the game for many people. All three factors of the game's GNS model changed, but it didn't shift premises. It was still just as Gamist as ever, but it was less balanced and had new, less appealing fluff.
- Gamism: BattleTech is a game of combat. Defeating your opponents, be they other players or a GM, has always been the central goal. That didn't change, although the details of how it was done did change. The introduction of superior technology also introduced a new "winning" condition in many groups: the acquisition of the superior tech. How much that mattered depended on how your group played.
- Narativism: BattleTech's fluff underwent a dramatic shift during the Clan Invasion era. The notion of a post-apocalyptic Inner Sphere caught in an unbreakable downward spiral of constant warfare was abandonned. It was transformed into a progressive, innovative and forward-looking culture that desired peace. The Clans took up the role of being the rigidly hidebound culture fixated on war. Still, the shift from good fluff to bad fluff did not change the balance of Narativism in the game, which was always very low for most people.
- Simulationism: Changes in the fluff as well as a vast amounts of new and unbalanced technology totally changed the simulationist aspect of the game. In the old rules Mechs tended to be viewed as lumbering dreadnoughts enganged in long-range combat with a variety of devastating weapons. Hand-to-hand combat could be done, but it was more dangerous and less effective than ranged combat. Some Mechs were quick and agile but they didn't have the armor or firepower to get too daring against a group of opposing Mechs working together, and their own firepower suffered when they moved fast. Battles tended to be fought with units sticking together and covering each other's weak spots because tactics and positioning counted, and you could be cut off and singled out if you were dumb about it. Heavy and Assault Mechs had a serious battlefield role and they were very powerful. In the old days, the claims in the fluff that an Assault Mech was worth more than it's weight in lesser Mechs seemed plausible, even if it didn't really play out that way in the game.

Along comes Level 2 Tech. Light and Medium Mechs received huge boosts in power while Heavy and Assault Mechs were prevented from enjoying the full benefits. Speed became king. Units could move so fast and fire so accurately while doing it, that your positioning on the table became almost meaningless. Hand-to-hand combat became extremely powerful as well. If you lost initiative, you could find an opponent crossing half the battlefield in a single spint, arriving right behind you and unloading with a volley of pulse lasers in your back while swinging a hatchet at your head.

I don't think the GNS model really explains what went wrong with BattleTech. It didn't change its GNS premise, it just carried out that premise with less appealing fluff and less balanced rules. But again, I don't really think GNS has a lot of meaning to war games. Even if they have great fluff, people do not usually play them in a narrative style (I have never really seen it done myself). The game mechanics aspect of GNS may have some bearing, but I think what makes a good RPG can make a very bad wargame and vice versa, so I wouldn't try to apply those recommendations too literally. In any case, BattleTech did not undergo any big change in game mechanics with the clans either.

Truckler wrote:
The point of the article is not to categorize gamers into different groups, but rather to understand and improve gaming through analysis. The author specifically mentions that he does not intend nor wish for the three profiles to be used to label people.
The author does warn against tossing around labels or applying them too strictly. But he also insists that events in-game must be dominated by one of the three premises, thus fitting his system of classification:

For a given instance of play, the three modes are exclusive in application. When someone tells me that their role-playing is "all three," what I see from them is this: features of (say) two of the goals appear in concert with, or in service to, the main one, but two or more fully-prioritized goals are not present at the same time.

Defining these categries and insisting that everything fits in to them is central to his whole article. He labels styles of play according to these categories and points out that different people can indeed be described by the premise they favor. The label is a preference, not an absolute statement that the player cannot enjoy anything else, but the label is still there. Further, games are labeled according to the premise they are most suited to. Games that try to satisfy all three premises are viewed as bad games, what he calls "incoherent". Indeed, he gets very blunt in stating that any attempt to satisfy all three is doomed to failure:

The one true game
What a wonderful ideal: an RPG design that satisfies any participant, with no stress, no adjustment of any part, no potential for interpersonal disagreement, and no unnecessary preparation. The "universal game."

Bluntly, it's a moronic concept, existing only to whet frustrated consumers' appetites for an upcoming product. GNS goals differ among people, preferred variants of each GNS mode differ among people, and system mechanics necessarily facilitate a limited range of these preferences, or facilitate nothing at all. All of us would do well to look in the mirror every morning and state, "There is no universal role-playing game."


So here is what I get from the GNS article:
- Gamers can be categorized (and labeled) by their preferred GNS premise, which shows what they have the most fun doing. It is not possible for any person to be a balance of the three premises.
- Games can be categorized (and labeled) by the premise(s) they best support/facilitate. A good game should favor one premise. Games that try to balance all premises are bad games that are inherently less fun to play or all people.
- Gamers have the most fun by playing a game that supports their preferred GNS premise with people who also share their preferred GNS premise.


If we apply the advice in this article to make any game better, then I think we would have to do one of two things:
A) Figure out what premise the game is best suited to and reinforce that aspect of it by weeding out the clutter of the other two, or
B) Define what the game's players are looking for in a premise (which may not be what the game does well) and reinforce that premise at the expense of the other two.

Actually, I think I have made a pretty good case (in my previous post) that 40K is ultimately a gamist vehicle where other other two premises are clearly subservient. Maybe GW has been listening to GNS theory in their various changes over the years: Making the game more contest and tournament oriented makes it more gamist. Now they are even releasing a "fluff free" rulebook in the Battle For Macragge boxed set.


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