Hamsterprophecy: Prevision

It\’s All About Pen, Paper and People.

Inside The Simscape: Constructive Denial

Posted by Nathan P. on December 6, 2005

In the comments to my last post, Rob said

“the multi-layered aspect of [my game] would seem to make it a “multi-sim” hybrid, as the various tools easily address different Sim focuses, not to mention the possiblity of gamist intentions.”

Cool. I’d like to talk about different Sim focuses, as I think we’re pretty much in agreement that the Sim “range” is pretty wide open. I’d like to go from these bases:

  • Sim happens via constructive denial of explorative input in order to create, sustain and extend the Dream, and the Right thereto.
  • The five elements of Exploration are: Character, Setting, Color, System and Situation.
  • The Dream is based on some kind of source material. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

So I think a good place to start is talking about how constructive denial works in terms of each element of exploration, hopefully with examples from play.

Note: I started this next section as an afterthought, then realized it deserved it’s own post. So, we’ll get the elements of exploration next time.

Constructive Denial, General Comments

I’m going to make up a bunch of stuff real quick.

It seems to me that a useful framework is to see the terms Constructive and Denial in a 4-square comparison with their opposites.

………………………..Denial…………………Acceptance
Constructive | Constructive Denial | Constructive Acceptance
Destructive | Destructive Denial | Destructive Acceptance

Some examples. Say these people are playing Adventure!

Constructive Denial:
P1: I’m gonna shoot him in the back of the head, execution-style.
P2: Dude, this is the evil genius. We need to find out his plan.
P3: Whatever, I’d rather waste him.
GM: As if sensing your intention, the doctor yells “Wait! If you kill me, you’ll never find out where I hid the Diamond of the Zulus….and your long-lost sister.”
P1: “What? I don’t have a sister!”
GM: “Yes. You do.”

Constructive Acceptence:
P1: I’m gonna shoot him in the back of the head, execution-style.
GM: Ok. [Graphic description of blood, brains, etc.] As his body flops to the ground, a small tube of paper rolls from his hand. It’s a crude map.
P2: “Maybe this is a map to the location of the Diamond of the Zulus!”

Destructive Denial
P1: I’m gonna shoot him in the back of the head, execution-style.
P2: Dude, this is the evil genius. We need to find out his plan.
P3: Whatever, I’d rather waste him.
GM: Your gun jams as you pull the trigger.

Destructive Acceptence
P1: I’m gonna shoot him in the back of the head, execution-style.
P2: Dude, this is the evil genius. We need to find out his plan.
P3: Whatever, I’d rather waste him.
GM: Ok. [Graphic description of said wasting]

I would say that destructive responses to input are, for the most part, not to be desired for coherent, non-Participationist play. And the key difference between constructive denial and constructive acceptence is that denial is an active response, while acceptence is a passive response. It’s easier to just go with whatever the other party says than to take it, think about how it contributes to the overall enjoyment and intention of the game, and then respond in such a way as to mold that input towards those goals. I’m sure that a lot of observed behavior straddles the line between denial and acceptance (is “yes, and/no, but” a denial or an acceptance, for example?)

Now, the process of Sim is constructive denial, not constructive whatever. This makes intuitive sense to me – measured and continuous denial shapes, conforms and guides input, while continuous acceptence, even if measured, leads to free-wheeling and wildly all-over-the-place input. It’s constructive denial towards a goal – bricoling the Source material with the groups input.

So there’s a couple different ways to go in order to look at play preferences that happen in the Sim sandbox. I think a good starting organizational rubric is to look at how constructive denial (and, for counterpoint, acceptence) works in terms of each of the elements of Exploration, and what kinds of observed behaviors support these interactions.

For now, I welcome comments on the (probably many) problems with my initial formulations about Constructive Denial.

6 Responses to “Inside The Simscape: Constructive Denial”

  1. Rob Muadib said

    I should be reading Dead Inside right now, but his designer notes got me on a blog post, Dead Inside, D&D, and WoW;Or Why I HATE D&D and how my game works, which led me to more blog reading and your post. So I’ll just comment here to in hopes of getting it out of my system.

    First, a bit on the source material, just wanted to point out this can be either emulative of a media franchise/work, i.e. star wars, or LoTR, a Game Specific setting spelled out in varying detail, a set of agreed upon “genre” assumptions only partially spelled out “It’s like Aliens, or Cyberpunk mixed with Firefly” (Common to D&D/GURPS/HERO and other generic/semi-generic systems), or , as in my game and Universalis, a player developed set of explicity spelled out tenets. So the “source material” can be derived in many ways, either chosen by the group from a pre-existing work, informed by pre-existing guidelines, developed ad-hoc via analogues & assumptions, or explicity group developed. (which kind of mirrors the broad range of Sim I guess)

    Hmm, I’d reword it a bit as
    “Sim play is focused on explorative play governed by a process of constructive denial, in order to create, sustain and extend the Dream, and Right thereto.”

    Do have to say I am not a particular fan of the Dream terminology, I prefer the term Communal Fantasy. I guess why I am big on communal fantasy is that Sim wants a consistent SIS, a SIS that all players can experience via discovery/exploration or faciliation of that discovery/exploration. In the particitipationist/illusionist camp it is the GM providing most of the details and the players engaging them. In the collaborative camp it is all the players contributing to and extending the SIS. It is a Fantasy, as it imagined, dreamed, or a fiction, most often with some measure of the speculative, fantastic or mythic involved. But more importantly, it is communal, shared and experienced by all players, unlike reading a book or some such. Of course under this focus, wholy Immersionist play becomes marginally dysfunctional.

    On first reading, I think your C/D A/D options are fairly sound. Given you understand the Sim context of Adventure! It’s is pulp genre sim with an emphasis on Pulp tropes and Dramatic (hook/build-up/Climax) adventure structure with the power primarily invested in the GM’s hands. With the player’s having the “Hero Point” means to inject Author stance for their character’s. (I haven’t actually read it, so I am going from 2ndhand understanding.)

    “Now, the process of Sim is constructive denial, not constructive whatever. This makes intuitive sense to me – measured and continuous denial shapes, conforms and guides input, while continuous acceptence, even if measured, leads to free-wheeling and wildly all-over-the-place input. It’s constructive denial towards a goal – bricoling the Source material with the groups input.”

    I think this sounds pretty good, though I am still not a 100% with the bricolage concept yet. Also, I think the impact of the distribution of authority/crediblity in Sim play is gonna deserve special consideration.

    Anyway, need to think on this more, and will get back to you.

  2. Nathan P. said

    Hey Rob. I look forward to seeing what you have to say about Dead Inside (not that I’ve read it, I’m just a generally curious person…)

    I have nothing to add to your explication of source material. The only thing would be that the Source is absolutely essential to Sim, while it’s more incidental to Gam or Nar (we can be struggling Gladiators in Dark Sun or in Star Wars or in Rome, we can address questions about family ties versus provincial loyalty in LO5R or Ravenloft, etc).

    “Hmm, I’d reword it a bit as
    “Sim play is focused on explorative play governed by a process of constructive denial, in order to create, sustain and extend the Dream, and Right thereto.””

    Well, I would say that all play is explorative (in order for it to be roleplay at all, which is why I chose the phrase I did. It’s the constructive denial of that explorative play that leads to Sim. Does that make sense? Or are we talking semantics?

    For my purposes, I use Dream b/c I’m trying to work from vanilla Forge terminology. Really, I don’t think it’s the best word either – I think we’re all pretty sure we known what we mean when we’re talking about Sim, but it’s hard to encapsulate in a word, so different people pick their favorite. For “Dream”, insert “X” where X = What You Dig About Sim Play.

    Side note, you may be interested to look at my thoughts on what roleplay as a form is (linked above). Your “Communal Fantasy” sounds awfully close to my “Collaborative Creation,” though with the Sim focus on your end.

    Your right about Adventure!, and its the most recent long-term game I’ve played, which is why I reference it.

    “I think this sounds pretty good, though I am still not a 100% with the bricolage concept yet.”

    I can give some links for Bricolage, if your interested. Basically what I mean here is your taking bits from your Source, bits from player input, bits of inspiration from other sources and things floating around in your head, and bringing it together. It’s the Constructive Denial that makes the bringing together process productive.

    “Also, I think the impact of the distribution of authority/crediblity in Sim play is gonna deserve special consideration.”

    Yes, oh dear god yes! It looks like you’re addressing this with your design (I do read your blog, I’m just a bad person who don’t comment…) I think it’s a topic for a whole ‘nother post (or set of posts), tho.

    Looking forward to your further comments!

  3. Nathan, where does Qualification fall in there? You ask parenthetically if “Yes, and” and “No, but” are Constructive Denial, but I’ve got a feeling that’s fertile ground to start farming.

  4. Nathan P. said

    Joshua – Yes, it is.

  5. Rob Muadib said

    Nathan

    Hey, been reading up on Bricolage and stuff so that’s why I haven’t responded yet. (an aside, OMG! Chris Lehrich has read to many books written by guys who have read too many books! Now, don’t get me wrong, I am NOT an anti-intellectual, and am by all rights pretty damn smart, but I am a college drop-out, so his drawing a 6 years or so of academic wankery makes his crapzor hard to understand:) )

    So bricolage as you describe it, divested of all the complicated Levi-Strauss wankery sounds good to me:)

    Ok, now to Constructive Denial/Acceptance.

    I think referencing why these GM vetting of the players creative input are Constructive or destructive etc will help us work out your concepts here. It seems we need to work on WHY something is constructive or destructive to the dream. It also gets into the Impossible Thing before breakfast territory. So C/D hinges on who has the authority/credibility. Which is all pretty obvious. But I still think it merits a bit more discussion.

    Meanwhile, I have been reading more theory crap, Process Model, Meihlaki model, and other miscellaneous bits.

  6. Nathan P. said

    Mmmm, yes! It’s definitly time to get working on what makes up denial and acceptence, and how the apportioning of input credibility works with that, and what that all means for Sim. So, basically, what you said.

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