Posted by Nathan P. on November 17, 2005
I’m not really sure how to start this post, as I’m not sure whether it wants to be a rant or more productive. In any case, it’s about Sim, and how I really wish it wasn’t the Big Model black sheep.
Now, this automatically triggers the “identity politics” thing , I suppose. But put that aside for now – I realize that comments about Sim are not comments about me or my choices as a roleplayer. And I know, personally, that I enjoy all CAs in various proportions, depending on my mood and group composition and all that kind of stuff. So I have a hard time understanding people who “don’t enjoy” a CA, but thats another issue, and comes down to subjective experience, and basically isn’t really worth getting into here. But, if someone put a gun to my head and said I had to choose one over the others, I would choose Sim.
The Ranty Bit
But. I really, truly don’t think that Sim gets equal weight to the other CA’s at the Forge. Now, this is due to a lot of factors – the background it grew out of, the preferences and focus of the early members, Sorcerer itself, the excellent suite of mostly Nar-supporting games that have come out of it and feed back into it, etc. And, unlike some, I don’t think it’s because Sim isn’t understood, or defined, or whatever. It is. But, and this is key, I think that the primary dynamics in Nar and Gam play are both more similar to each other, and more easily described with tools we’ve borrowed from other areas of analysis, than that of Sim. Combined with the Forge’s Nar-inertia, it almost necessarily falls into third place.
I’ll get to the productive part in a second, it’s about those dynamics.
Anyway, I think it’s sad and pretty frustrating that people on the Forge act like Sim is on the same level as Nar/Gam, when, developmentally, theoretically and system-wise, its not. I know it’s not a hundred percent of case, but I perceive an atmosphere that assumes that if you have a question about Nar or Gam, you can ask it and have it explained. If you have a question about Sim, it turns into a big deal – both because Sim identifiers/defenders/apologists jump on it, and because it’s assumed by others that not “getting” Sim is a defensive reaction of someone who is really a closet Narrativist, or whatever. Not all the time, but enough that it feels like all the time.
The Productive Bit
I argue that the problem is that Sim really is harder to grasp with the tools we have at our disposal. Which gets into my primary processes argument/analysis/whatever. What is a primary process? It’s the dynamic that defines the CA, as well as the engine that makes it go. It’s a determinent – the primary process is that which defines the CA. As per usual Big Model stipulations, this is all assuming functional play, looking at enough play to see reward cycles, etc.
Ron Edwards has catchy phrases for the CAs:
Narrativism is about Story Now.
Gamism is about Step on Up.
Simulationism is about The Right To Dream.
Now, except kinda sorta for Gamism, those phrases aren’t really processes. Those are descriptions and indicators, but a process is an active thing (a dynamic!) that requires someone, or a group of someones, to generate input to get it started. As I understand it, these processes have been hashed out on the Forge like so:
Narrativism is defined by the process of Addressing Premise.
Gamism is defined by the process of stepping up to Challenge.
Simulationism is defined by the process of Celebration of Source Material. Or Emulation. Or Prioritizing the Fiction. Or…
See what I mean? The basic debate about the process of Sim is still ongoing. Each of the posited processes means the same general thing, and its all pointing towards the same place, but evidently it’s a lot easier to agree that Nar is about Addressing Premise than to agree that Sim is about Celebrating Source Material.
I argue that this is not because Sim is fundementally different in nature or harder to understand conceptually, but rather because Sim is both harder to describe with the tools we have at hand, and because the range of activity that falls under Sim is broader in scope than that which falls under Nar or Gam. And these feed into each other, compounding the problem.
We have other examples of Addressing Premise and Stepping up to Challenge outside of RPGs. Premise comes from the world of literary analysis, if I understand it correctly. A novel can address premise. A movie can address premise. [Obviously, not in the same way as an instance of play, etc]. Challenge, I think, is the easiest to conceptualize in terms of other activities – sports, card and board games, all that stuff where the point of the activity is to win and/or gain prestige. But, in what other source do we have, as Ron frames it, Exploration for its own sake?
Sim doesn’t necessarily have to be “about” anything in the same way that a novel or movie is supposed to be “about” something. Or, to rephrase – if a movie isn’t about anything, its generally considered not to be a very good movie. Not exactely the most compelling parallel. So, what tools to we have already available that we can use to describe the process of, as I call it, Exploration on Purpose? Not many. Definitely not as many as we do for Nar and Gam.
Sim is also broader in scope, in terms of actual activity that happens. What I mean by this is that both Nar and Gam consistently and by definition prioritize a certain element of roleplay. Sim, on the other hand, by definition encapsulates putting priority on any element of Exploration proper, as well as all the various combinations and degrees of emphasis between the elements of Exploration. I think many of the conversations I’ve seen on the Forge bear this out. When someone “gets” Nar, its like suddenly they’re on the same page with everyone else who gets Nar. But two people who both consider themselves very Sim can totally clash when talking about it, because one of them enjoys (say) prioritizing Exploration of Character, and doesn’t really care about exploring System, and the other is into exploration of Setting, but not Character. Or something along those lines. This is in addition to the recurring problem of mapping Techniques to CA in any kind of reliable manner.
So, we have a CA that has the least ability to map to other forms of entertainment, along with the intrinsic property of “holding” a very wide spectrum of technique and exploration preferences. This is just both harder to talk about and harder to come to consensus on than Nar, f’rex, which has a tight relationship to literature and “holds” a narrower range of play preference.
I consider myself a person that prefers Simulationist play. I consider myself a designer that strives for games that support Simulationist play. So I’m going to take what I just said and do a little self-analysis and see how it fits.
When I was running my Adventure! game over the summer, I was aiming for Genre emulation both in terms of how the world worked, and in terms of how the story would progress. In GNS terms, I wanted to Explore Color and Situation, and to a lesser extent Character and Setting. System was something that I tweaked in able to enable more fun for the group, and to encourage more kibbitzing, but it definitely wasn’t something to Explore. I feel like that game was fairly successful – not a complete blast, but definitely fun and enjoyable for all of us. We wanted to create a narrative that paralleled our understanding of the pulp genre, but I personally didn’t feel that Premise was being addressed in anything but an occasional or accidental fashion. There were elements of Challenge, but mainly in service of exploring Character (how cool can you guys be taking down these 30 ninjas?) or in creating that story arc (you need to have a big fight with mooks before you get to the main bad guy).
As for design, I consider Timestream to support “high-concept” Simulationist play, with that concept being “cinematic” Time Travel. It is designed to encourage Exploration of this Situation in a huge way – the rules are basically about the different ways to use, gain and explore the time-affecting powers that you have. The character creation process also, I think, encourages Exploration of your character as s/he relates to the other characters, which also shades into Situation. There’s a tiny bit about exploring Setting, as you can have different “settings” for the game (Pulp, Fantasy, Apocalypic, etc). Color is hit-or-miss. There’s basically no boundaries or mechanical motivations for it, so each individual can run with Color as much as they want, which could be barely at all. There’s some tactical stuff in the currency exchanges in the System that could be explored, but not, I think, enough to sustain a whole instance of play.
Does it support Nar play? It can, but I think it would have to be intentional on the part of the group. One of the early comments on it was that it wasn’t “dangerous” enough, that there was no gas to make it go in the same way that, say, Humanity makes Sorcerer go. And I played with that for a while, but in the end, I didn’t want to make it dangerous. Everything I tried with it made me uncomfortable, so I decided that that’s not a priority for the design. And I’m happy with that decision. Does it support Gam play? I seriously doubt it. Maybe as a full PvP style game, but other than that, I think it would require a good deal of effort to make it pay off for Gamist play.
And that’s enough for now.