Applying the Theory

There’s an old quote from Carrie Fischer, speaking to Lucas about his approach to dialogue during the filming of Star Wars: “You can read this shit, but you can’t say it.”
With that in mind, I present a good essay from M.J. Young on how to apply “Forge theories” to “real games” (specifically, designing or customizing games). It’s one of those “give it to me in context” things that folks mentioned in the last post.
Excerpts below, emphasis mine:

Specifically, I’m looking at the theory commonly known as GNS. This theory suggests that role play styles divide into Gamists who enjoy facing the challenges of play, Narrativists who enjoy great stories that involve themes or issues, and Simulationists who seek to know what another reality might be like. Periodically in those discussions [on the theory], someone suggests that the theory isn’t much use because it doesn’t tell you how to design a better game.

I would clarify that to say “Narrativists enjoy posing a question (the ‘premise’) and then answering that question through the events of the game and the actions of their characters. I don’t think theme or story is exclusively narrativist, nor do I think that the current view of the GNS model assumes that’s the case. (The only problem with this essay is that it’s a year or more behind the current view of the theory-in-practice.)

[…] it can be and often is answered that this is not really a theory about how to design games. It’s a theory about what gamers are seeking when they play, and as such has its most effective application as a diagnostic tool for play groups that seem to be internally at odds. In this context, if we have players who are trying to get different things out of the game, having some terminology and definitions by which to discuss what each is seeking can be invaluable in resolving conflict. If all GNS theory did was resolve such conflicts, it would be valuable. However, one cannot read so much as the title of that first article, System Does Matter, without absorbing the idea that game design itself is part of the problem, and therefore could be part of the solution.

I know that in reading this essay and others I started to understand problems and frustrations I’d had in the past with various play groups, so I’d agree, as far as that goes.

[…] GNS considerations are very important to the question of what you are designing. If you guide the players into designing hammers, they’re going to wind up with tools that are very good for hitting things; if you want them instead to write stories, you need to have them design pens.

And one of my favorite quotes illustrating the difference in game modes:

It might help put the entire question of resolution mechanics in perspective by imagining that a character runs, perhaps fleeing from an attacker. The gamist wants to know whether he ran fast enough. The narrativist wants to know how his running illustrated the premise. The simulationist wants to know how fast he ran — any of them might enjoy retelling the story that came out of the scene, because any style of play generates Story. Although all three are concerned about escaping the adversary, they view this in different ways.

There’s some more stuff I wanted to talk about regarding how each style approaches “character” and the sanctity of the character concept (I think Sim is the only one that really approaches the character as sancrosanct), but that’s for another time.


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