jimboboz (jimboboz) wrote,

Jim Bob vs Ron, a Socratic Dialogue, or: GNS suxxorz!

Me, for writing, in the form of a Socratic dialogue, why GNS suxxorz .

Funny-looking bugger, wasn't he?

GNS, obviously.

This arose from a thread, on rpg.net, GNS and Agendas. I kept saying, okay Ron Edwards' observations on gamers are wrong, so his theory from those observations are wrong, too. Then people complained that I didn't do a point-by-point refutation of the lot. Well, if THAT'S how you're going to be... I post it here on my LJ rather than at rpg.net, because frankly the chances are it'll turn flamey, and I don't like to pollute rpg.net with that sort of stuff. Vile pollution is what LJs are for.

Dave Hallet wrote that, JimBob, your argument is no more than a fancy way of saying that since you don't trust Ron's judgment (fair enough, he's said a lot of things that make me wonder),

No. I am saying that his observations are incorrect.

This is the scientific method:
1. Be bewildered by information.
2. Make hypothesis to explain the information.
3. Conduct experiments and collect more information to confirm or toss aside hypothesis.
4. If hypothesis appears from the information gathered to be broadly correct, develop it further into a full theory.
5. Return to (3)

Now, I realise he makes no real claim to being scientific (though he does seem keen to tell us about his biology degree). However, this scientific process is a good and reasonable way of approaching a problem. We don't have to be as rigorous as a doctoral thesis, we can paint in broad strokes, that's okay. But there should be something vaguely resembling this process.

When developing a theory about how people roleplay, the "data gathered" will be watching and asking them how they roleplay.

But he has not watched many groups. So that leaves asking people. And he says that when he asks people, they give him wrong answers. After all, they are brain-damaged.

If my measuring stick doesn't measure properly, I cannot draw useful conclusions from its measurements. Likewise, if roleplayers are unable to report accurately what they enjoy, then I cannot draw useful conclusions about the way they roleplay from their reports.

1. If what roleplayers say about their roleplaying is correct, then GNS is wrong, because it doesn't match what they say.
2. If what roleplayers say about their roleplaying is not correct, then GNS is possibly wrong because it's based on nothing, on made-up data.
3. If GNS is a correct theory despite wrong data from roleplayers, then Ron Edwards has more insight into roleplaying than many roleplayers. One man is right, and many are wrong.
4. It is more likely that one man is wrong than many are wrong. It is more likely that one person will have warped perceptions, than that many people will have warped perceptions.

Dave Hallet writes, you're not interested in examining whether any of his conclusions hold water.

Evidently you've not read all my posts in that thread or others, talking about how GNS is wrong. I'm not obliged to refute each and every assertion of every crackpot theory I see online, I'd spend my whole life doing it, but here's a few as a sample, beginning with his words from the famous GNS essay itself. I'm writing it as a Socratic dialogue. You know those stupid philosophical things, where one guy writes the "dialogue", so he's setting it up so that whatever his opponent says, the opponent looks stupid? If you watch Ron Edwards' posting style on his forum, you'll find that's what he tries to do – steer any dialogue so that it's effectively a Socratic dialogue. He determines how it goes, what are the terms of discussion, who can speak and when, and so on. In other words, he loads the dice against the other guy. Since he does it to guys like Levi, I feel quite happy and justified in doing it to him. So here it is,


or maybe something kinda creepier

Jim BobGidday, Edwards. I hear you have this grand theory of roleplaying. Tell us how you came to it, and all about it.

Ron Edwards: My straightforward observation of the activity of role-playing is that many participants do not enjoy it very much. Most role-players I encounter are tired, bitter, and frustrated.

Jim Bob: Your experience is not universal. Maybe everyone who roleplays with you is tired, bitter and frustrated.

Also, note that here you're saying you ask questions of roleplayers to develop your theories, and develop your theories on the basis of those answers? Interesting. Let's take note of that. Apparently you think roleplayers can accurately report their experiences. I mean, you wouldn't base a whole rpg theory on their experiences, if you thought they couldn't report them accurately, right?

Ron Edwards: ... it [GNS] does stand as the single coherent body of theory about role-playing at the Forge, and its lexicon is definitive for purposes of discussion there.

Jim Bob: No. Before you closed the theory subforum, there were nothing but arguments about what "Narrativism", etc meant. It's not a "definitive lexicon" if people are arguing about what the words mean. So not even in the Forge does everyone agree on it. There is no consensus. You closed the Theory subforum complaining that there was no consensus, in fact - that arguments went "round and round."

Ron EdwardsWhen a person engages in role-playing, or prepares to do so, he or she relies on imagining and utilizing the following: Character, System, Setting, Situation, and Color... At the most basic level, these are what the role-playing experience is "about," but to be more precise, these are the things which must be imagined by the real people. In this sense, saying "system" means "imagining events to be occurring."

Jim Bob: No. At "the most basic level," roleplaying is for most gamers about being with friends, using the game as a social outlet. People first, everything else second. This is most clearly plain in game groups where they change system, setting, characters etc more often than they change players. If the group consisting of Anna, Bob, Charlie, Dave and Erika plays a dungeon-crawl D&D game this week, and an angsty Vampire game next week, what is constant? Arnold, Bob, Charlie, Dave and Erika are constant. Everything else has changed. People first, everything else second.

If roleplaying were something in and of itself, some thing people did regardless of company, we'd see many more club games, people coming to groups for a single campaign only. Erika would leave when they played D&D, and Charlie would only come when they played Vampire. But in fact people behave in the way I've described: people first, everything else second.

Ron Edwards: When a person perceives the listed elements together and considers Exploring them, he or she usually has a basic reaction of interest or disinterest, approval or disapproval, or desire to play or lack of such a desire. Let's assume a positive reaction; when it occurs, whatever prompted it is Premise, in its most basic form. To re-state, Premise is whatever a participant finds among the elements to sustain a continued interest in what might happen in a role-playing session. Premise, once established, instils [sic] the desire to keep that imaginative commitment going.

Jim Bob: No, that's not "Premise", that's "enthusiasm." Or maybe "what I like." Who the fuck taught you English?

Ron Edwards: Premise is a metagame concern, wholly different from the listed elements.

Jim Bob: So "Premise" comes from a person's being interested in one or more of "Character, System, Setting, Situation, and Color," but it is "wholly different" from "Character, System, Setting, Situation, and Color"? Is that like, my taste for chocolate chip ice cream is not actually the same as chocolate chip ice cream? The desire for the thing is not the thing itself? Wooah, that's profound. And for your next insight, my left foot is not my right foot?

Okay so for some reason you call "what I like," "Premise."

Ron Edwards: I do not recommend using "genre" to identify role-playing content. A "genre" is some combination of specific setting elements, plot elements, situation elements, character elements, and sometimes premise elements, such that by hearing the term, we are informed what to expect, or in role-playing terms, what to do. On the face of it, the concept would seem to be useful.

The problem is that genres are continually being deconstructed and re-formed, with elements of one being re-combined with others. This is occurring as a non-planned or non-managed historical phenomenon throughout all media. Therefore "genre" may be a fine descriptive label for what is or has been done, but it's not much help in terms of what to do or what can be done.

Jim Bob: But Premise, Creative Agenda, Gamism, etc - all the terms you use in this essay, are also being "continually deconstructed and re-formed..." etc. See for example The Forge. You yourself change definitions of words from those of the dictionary to something new, and later when someone picks holes in it, or you change your mind, you change the definition again. So if we're going to exclude words that are often redefined, well, that kind of fucks up your essay, yeah? Leaves the page blank. Not that I'm saying that'd be a bad thing...

Ron Edwards: Therefore when someone tells me that a game (or story, or whatever) is based on a certain genre, I have to ask a few more questions - and sooner or later, I get real answers in terms of Character, Setting, Situation, or Color. Only then can an initial Premise be identified, and then the next step toward functional, enjoyable role-playing may occur.

Jim Bob: So again, you ask questions of roleplayers to develop your theories? And develop your theories on the basis of those answers? Interesting. Let's take note of that second mention of actually listening to roleplayers.

Ron Edwards: Talk to someone who participates in role-playing, and focus on the precise and actual acts of role-playing themselves. Ask them, "Why do you role-play?" The most common answer is, "To have fun."

Jim Bob: Again, talking to roleplayers and basing your theories on the idea that they're telling you the truth. Good stuff, that. So long as you remember that your experience isn't universal. You do know that, don't you, Edwards? Hello?

Ron Edwards: Again, stick to the role-playing itself. (The wholly social issues are real, such as "Wanting to hang out with my friends," but they are not the topic at hand.)

Jim Bob: Wow, the actual human beings involved get a parenthesis! Woohoo! Humanity is important! My social interactions are validated! Could it be that your parenthesis is... why people really roleplay? Is there anyone who will roleplay with someone they hate, if they have any choice? Will you game with some guy who shits his pants and throws it at you? Isn't that a "wholly social issue"? Isn't that important? Apparently not.

If Ron Edwards regularly games with people who don't actually like each-other, that could be a reason they're mostly "tired, bitter and frustrated." Just sayin'.

People first, mate. Everything else second. To dismiss the social aspect of a social hobby like roleplaying is like dismissing the physical aspect of weightlifting, or the spiritual aspect of meditation. What the fuck? People first, mate!

Ron Edwards: Now ask, "What makes fun?" This may not be a verbal question, and it is best answered mainly through role-playing with people rather than listening to them. Time and inference are usually required.

Jim Bob: Ah... so now it's actually not good to talk to roleplayers? What are you trying to say we don't know what we want, what we enjoy? Or is it just that "actions speak louder than words"? Okay, I can buy that, I guess. So, tell us about the actions you've seen. What's backing up this theory?

Hello? Still there?

Ron Edwards: In my experience, the answer turns out to be a version of one of the following terms. These terms, or modes, describe three distinct types of people's decisions and goals during play.

Jim Bob: What, everything all in three? That's impressive. The generality of human experience and behaviour, just in three categories. Sociologists need hundreds. Even crazy fuckers get several thousand categories in the DSM. But Edwards does it in just three. Well, gotta start somewhere, I suppose. So, what are the three categories?

Ron Edwards: 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 listed elements provide an arena for the competition.

Jim Bob: So like I'm happy when I get more xp than the other guy? The GM says, "only the last blow killing the thing gets you xp," so the fighter stands there all day copping lots of blasts from the dragon, and my thief sneaks in and does a double-damage backstab on it when it's got 3 hit point left? Competition between the players, eh?

Who the fuck still games like that? Maybe when I was fourteen playing Red Box D&D - but after that...? Mate, players in the most mindless dungeon-crawl, they're in a competition against themselves - "I wanna get to seventh level and get another feat" - and against the GM, maybe - "I'll find his traps!" - but against other players? What kind of fucked-up game have you been playing? Paranoia, maybe? Or maybe some 1337 ninjaz dweebs on WoW some time?

Ron Edwards: Simulationism is expressed by enhancing one or more of the listed elements in Set 1 above; 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.

Jim Bob: What's "Set 1"? You mean, "Character, System, Setting, Situation, and Color"?

Character? So like if I want to play the character of the Hulk that's Simulationism? I thought that was just being a wanker. Make up your own character, dickhead! If I make up my own character, I'm not simulating anything. I'm imagining something.

System? How do I Simulate System? Is that like being a Rules Lawyer? If I follow the rules (system) to the letter, I'm Simulating it? What the fuck?

Situation? How do I Simulate a Situation? Which Situation? You mean like, confronting my father who turned to evil and killed my mother after schtupping her? More being a wanker, you mean?

Color? What the fuck is Color, anyway? You mean like style and stuff? Comedy, stupidity, angst? You gotta explain these things. I mean, if "what you like" you decide to call "Premise", then how the fuck are we going to possibly guess what "Color" means? It might mean "my shoe size" for all I know.

Use plain English! If you're not going to use plain English, explain it as you go!

Ron Edwards: 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).

Jim Bob: Lit 101? What, now we have to go to university to be able to understand roleplaying? Shit, I find it hard enough just to get the players to read the rules...

A story with a theme is a "narrative". Sorry, "Narrative." Here was I thinking it was just "a story with a theme." Or really, "a story with a point." What kind of story doesn't have a theme? A crappy boring one. What ties together characters and events without a theme? They're in the same book/movie/session?

So... a "Narrativist" story is one which is not boring or crappy. Wow, I guess every roleplayer must be a Narrativist. Shit, a hell of a lot of non-roleplayers, too. "I like stories with a point to them." "Narrativist!"

Ron Edwards: GNS is the central concept of my theorizing about role-playing.

Jim Bob: So with these three categories, we get one which is utter bullshit (Gamism), one which is complete and utter meaningless confusion (Simulationism), and a last which is sticks-out-like-dog's-balls obvious. This is the rock upon which you build your church? Mate, your tripod has only got one leg. And this is your "central concept"? Boy, you're in trouble...

Ron Edwards: It is necessary for understanding how Premise is developed,

Jim Bob: Wait a minute. Premise is developed? But you said -

Ron Edwards: To re-state, Premise is whatever a participant finds among the elements to sustain a continued interest in what might happen in a role-playing session.

Jim Bob: So Premise is what I like in a game session. How do I "develop" what I like? You mean, "the GM puts it in there"? Or do you mean like "developing" a taste for olives or whatever? What? Hello?

Ron Edwards: However, it [GNS] is not sufficient, and the three modes themselves do not address any and all points about role-playing.

Jim Bob: Yeah, no shit. Paranthetical people, and all that. "Oh by the way, human beings will be sitting at your game table..."

Ron Edwards: Much torment has arisen from people perceiving GNS as a labelling [sic] device.

Jim Bob: What, you invented a label, and people are using it as a label? Oh my God, I totally never would have expected that!

Ron Edwards: Used properly, the terms apply only to decisions, not to whole persons nor to whole games. To be absolutely clear, to say that a person is (for example) Gamist, is only shorthand for saying, "This person tends to make role-playing decisions in line with Gamist goals." Similarly, to say that an RPG is (for example) Gamist, is only shorthand for saying, "This RPG's content facilitates Gamist concerns and decision-making." For better or for worse, both of these forms of shorthand are common.

Jim Bob: Well, we already established that a Gamist must be an adolescent moron 1337 ninjaz, so why not just use the shorthand, "dickhead" for "Gamist"? It's more evocative, that's for sure.

Ron Edwards: For a given instance of play, the three modes are exclusive in application.

Jim Bob: Say what? I can't do two at once? What if the game tells me I "win" by killing the dragon first? Am I not Simulating the System then? Or am I being a Gamist? What if the theme is of father-son angst, and I roleplay that, am I Simulating the Setting or am I telling a Narrative? Look, I know your wife probably told you that we men can't multi-task, but we can do two things at once, seriously... just try it.

Ron Edwards: 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. So in the course of Narrativist or Simulationist play, moments or aspects of competition that contribute to the main goal are not Gamism.

Jim Bob: So how many "moments" make up a "Gamist"? Not one, but two? Three? Is there a measuring device I can buy for this? "Sorry, only three instances of complaining about crappy dice rolls, that's not Gamist enough to fall outside the standard error of the device..."

Ron Edwards: Over a greater period of time, across many instances of play, some people tend to cluster their decisions and interests around one of the three goals.

Jim Bob: You mean, some people are dickheads (Gamists), and some people actually like stories with a point to them (Narrativist), and others are pretty fucking confused (Simulationists)? So like we have Dickheads, Humans, and Morons? I think I'll call it the DHM theory...

Ron Edwards: Again, all three modes are social applications of the foundational act of role-playing, which is Exploration.

Jim Bob: They're "modes", now? "Social applications"? I thought they were just what we like to have in our game sessions? So only one of the the three GNS we get to choose as a Premise, and we Explore that, and that's roleplaying? You mean that in roleplaying we like to do what we like? Mate, you are so devilishly profound you may just make me have a critical fumble in my pants.

Ron Edwards: Gamism and Narrativism each encompass a wide range of variation for Premise, including variations that differ drastically from one another. This is why "a Gamist," for instance, does not necessarily enjoy any and all Gamist play or have the same priorities as any and all other Gamist-oriented role-players.

Jim Bob: So not only do the three categories miss out a lot of stuff, you say, but even those categories are really broad and stuff. Hey, I can buy that.

Ron Edwards: Gamist Premises focus on competition about overt metagame goals.

Jim Bob: So when the guy playing Captain Teflon Psycho says he wants an extra Feat, it's not because he wants an extra Feat so he can be more badarsed, it's just "metagame"? I thought being badarsed was in the game. No? Really? So like why does the Gamist come to game sessions? He could just sit at home writing up his 25th level drowlesbianstripperninja. Unless... could it be...? He actually wants to see other human beings? ZOMFG, that social thing again! Quick, someone fetch the parentheses!

Here you go. Use those. I'll need that exclamation mark back, though, I borrowed it from Kevin Sembieda.

Ron Edwards: The key to Gamist Premises is that the conflict of interest among real people is an overt source of fun.

Jim Bob: You mean like in Paranoia? Is there anyone who games this way regularly in every session once mother lets them wear their first set of long pants?

Ron Edwards: Narrativist Premises focus on producing Theme via events during play. Theme is defined as a value-judgment or point that may be inferred from the in-game events.

Jim Bob: Yes, having a story with a point to it is a good thing. The alternative? A story with no point? Mate, if I want a long boring story where nothing really happens, nothing is resolved and there's no point to it, I have my life, I don't need to roleplay.

Ron Edwards: Narrativist Premises vary regarding their origins: character-driven Premise vs. setting-driven Premise, for instance.

Jim Bob: What about SETTING-driven Premise (you lost the capitals for Character and Setting, so I made up for it by putting lots of capitals in "setting")? What about System and Situation-driven Premises? And Color-driven Premise? You still never told us what "Color" was. Let's try to imagine a System-drive Premise.


Nope. Mind's blank. Oh, unless you mean like "I want to get to next level." But that wouldn't be a Narrativist Premise, would it? So we can have Narrative Character-driven Premise, and Narrative Setting-driven Premise, but Narrative System-driven Premise would involve Gamism, wouldn't it? And... but...

Ron Edwards: For a given instance of play, the three modes are exclusive in application.

Jim Bob: Oh no! Narrative and Gamism in one place together! Don't cross the streams, dude!

Don't cross the streams!

Ron Edwards: Simulationist Premises are generally kept to their minimal role of personal aesthetic interest; the effort during play is spent on the Exploration.

Jim Bob: What? Isn't all this stuff "personal aesthetic interest"? Is there something deeper to my desire to play a half-dragon-elf with four +4 Vorpal Swords and a Ring of Immunity Vs All Shit? Is it all like deep and meaningful and stuff?

Ron Edwards: Simulationist Premises... System: a strong focus on the resolution engine and all of its nuances in strictly within-game-world, internally-causal terms. A possible development of the "vampire" premise in terms of System Exploration might be, How do various weapons harm or fail to harm a vampire, in specific causal detail?

Jim Bob: Oh okay, so I was right earlier on. A person who has a Simulationist Premise for System is just a munchkin. Cool, I can dig it.

Ron Edwards: It has rightly been asked whether Simulationism really exists, given that it consists mainly of Exploration.

Jim Bob: Mate, I hate to break it to you, but none of your categories exist. In the first place, they're arbitrary categories you made up. Secondly, like I already said, Gamism as defined only dickheads do regularly, but everyone enjoys sometimes; Narrativism as defined everyone wants, so it's a category of "every style of play there is", and we can just call it "roleplaying when it isn't crap"; and Simulationism is hopelessly muddled.

Ron Edwards: I suggest that Simulationism exists insofar as the effort and attention to Exploration may over-ride either Gamist or Narrativist priorities.

Jim Bob: So Simulationism is Exploration? But I thought that Gamism, Narrativism and Simulationism were all things to Explore? Look mate, if you're going to go around giving old words new meanings, at least keep them straight.

Ron Edwards: A great deal of intellectual suffering has occurred due to the linked claims that role-playing either is or is not "story-oriented," and that one falls on one side or the other of this dichotomy. I consider this terminology and its implication to be wholly false.

"Story" may simply mean "series of caused events," in which case the issue is trivial.

Jim Bob: Yes. We call that "a crap story." If the issue is trivial, we don't care what happens in it. If we don't care what happens in it, it's a crap and boring story. So, am I oriented towards stories which are not crap and boring? Well, yes... Aren't you? I have my doubts, but...

Ron Edwards: By far and away, the worst misunderstanding of GNS, with the worst consequences, arises from synecdoche, confounding the part with the whole and vice versa.

Jim Bob: "synecdoche"? Sounds like a kind of monster. "Avast! Synecdoche off the starboard bow! Fire the harpoon!"

Ah, synecdoche. Fancy word, that. "If he can use fancy words, he must be right." So tell me: if you have to explain what the word is, why use it? The only reason to use nine words instead of one is that everyone knows what the single word means. If you have to explain the fucking thing, then just use the nine words, and forget the single word.

Anyway, "synecdoche". You need to consider that a bit. I mean, "confounding the part with the whole" - I think you meant "confusing" - that's something you did. Remember back in the beginning you said that most gamers are miserable? The ones you met? Yeah, those poor bastards. Remember them? They are part of the whole of roleplayers. And you wouldn't generalise from your own little experience. That'd be synecdoche, right? And wrong, wrong, wrong. Only poopyheads who don't understand GNS would do that!

Ron Edwards: Synecdoche may be committed by someone who has recently or imperfectly learned some GNS vocabulary, who in his enthusiasm is disrespectful to modes of play besides his favorite. However, it is also tremendously widespread among those role-players who do not know, or even who disparage, a critical approach to the activity, but commit synecdoche using terms like "realistic" or "story." In either case, this fallacy is disastrous. It results in bad feelings, fizzled games, and rejection of role-playing.

Jim Bob: Hmmm. The gender-neutral pronoun "it" in the second sentence refers to the noun which is in the first sentence. So you're saying,

Ron Edwards: Synecdoche... is also tremendously widespread among those role-players who... commit synecdoche...

Jim BobRon, meet Editor. Editor, meet Ron. Try to work together. Editor, please teach him grammar and stuff.

Now, "synecdoche". Hmmm...

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

syn·ec·do·che (sĭ-nĕk'do-kē) n.
A figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole (as hand for sailor), the whole for a part (as the law for police officer), the specific for the general (as cutthroat for assassin), the general for the specific (as thief for pickpocket), or the material for the thing made from it (as steel for sword).

So in fact it's not something you "commit", like say, a grammatical mistake – it's just a figure of speech, like an idiom or colloquialism. But hey, we'll let it slide for the moment, since you already redefine words to suit yourself, why not this one? At least here you're redefining a word no-one uses anyway, less chance we'll notice. [Note: I did not notice until it was pointed out to me by a poster below. I might have noticed normally, but by this stage of the writing I was going insane.]

Anyway, if you say that "your favourite game suxxorz", then you're committing synecdoche? So if for example someone were to say,

"participants in that hobby are perhaps the very last people on earth who could be expected to produce *all* the components of a functional story. No, the most functional among them can only be counted on to seize protagonism in their stump-fingered hands and scream protectively..."

that person would be a synecdoche? That's good to know. I wouldn't want anyone to game with a synecdoche, they might have "bad feelings, fizzled games and rejection of role-playing"! What then? Why, then they might become "bitter, tired and frustrated"! That would be awful! Then maybe the synecdoche would have no option but to go and create a whole new theory of gaming!

Oh dear, have we just had an insight? Could it be that Ron Edwards invented GNS because he's a crap roleplayer? I don't know, never played with him. But from his own diagnosis of such people...

Ron Edwards: common misunderstandings of GNS include... Mistaking the shorthand of "He's a Narrativist" (or either of the others) for a limiting statement that the person is incapable of any other mode of play.

Jim Bob: But hang on... didn't you say earlier...

Ron Edwards: For a given instance of play, the three modes are exclusive in application.

Jim Bob: So you can only do one of the three at once, but you can be more than one at once? So you can be more than you can do? So it's neither "to be is to do", nor is it "to do is to be",

more like "do be do be do da"?

Ron Edwards: Note: "synecdoche" is pronounced "sin-ECK-doe-key."

Jim Bob: Thanks, Edwards. Always wanted to know that. Really. My life will be greatly enriched for that word no normal person would use in everyday conversation. When I was in the Army on Recruit Course and I forgot to do up my shirts hanging in the wardrobe and the Sergeant abused the fuck out of me, saying, "you stupid fuck, you had better get your shit together in a sock and wire it tight," I could have said, "You are committing sin-ECK-doe-key." Thanks, Edwards. If only I'd known.

Okay, on to Stance.

Ron Edwards: In Actor stance, a person determines a character's decisions and actions using only knowledge and perceptions that the character would have.

Jim Bob: You mean, "the player stays in character"?

Ron Edwards: In Author stance, a person determines a character's decisions and actions based on the real person's priorities, then retroactively "motivates" the character to perform them.

Jim Bob: You mean, "the player plays them out of character"? Or, "the player doesn't roleplay"?

Ron Edwards: In Director stance, a person determines aspects of the environment relative to the character in some fashion, entirely separately from the character's knowledge or ability to influence events. Therefore the player has not only determined the character's actions, but the context, timing, and spatial circumstances of those actions, or even features of the world separate from the characters.

Jim Bob: You mean, "the player tries to take the game over from the GM"?

Mate, why don't you talk like normal people? Like in plain English and stuff?

Ron Edwards: Stance is very labile during play, with people shifting among the stances frequently and even without deliberation or reflection.

Jim Bob: So why the distinctions? "This changes all the time... but, um, if you like take a snapshot with one of those high-speed cameras they use to take pictures of bullets going through apples and stuff, you'll catch one of these three things." What?

Ron Edwards: Historically, Author stance seems the most common or at least decidedly present at certain points for Gamist and Narrativist play, and Director stance seems to be a rarer add-on in those modes. Actor stance seems the most common for Simulationist play, although a case could be made for Author and Director stance being present during character creation in this mode. These relative proportions of Stance positions during play do apparently correspond well with issues of Premise and GNS.

Jim Bob: What? This passage is so dense with your redefined words I'm lost. What's this "historically" bit? Roleplaying throughout history? Or do you just mean, "in the past" or "often I have seen"? And what do you mean Premise and GNS? Isn't one of the GNS trinity the Premise? I only gave you the editor five minutes ago and already you've lost him.

Ron Edwards: Getting the most out of a GNS mode of play does not mean cleaving unswervingly to a Stance -.

Jim Bob: It better not, because you already said before:

Ron Edwards: Stances do not correspond in any 1:1 way to the GNS modes.

Jim Bob: So, you know, it better not. Or did you not mean "do not correspond", but instead, "should not correspond"? Because there was also that business of -

Ron Edwards: Author stance seems the most common or at least decidedly present at certain points for Gamist and Narrativist play,

Jim Bob: - and all that other stuff. So is it not so, or only should not be so? But go on.

Ron Edwards: Getting the most out of a GNS mode of play does not mean cleaving unswervingly to a Stance, but arranging Stances relative to specific types of scenes, decisions, and moments of play.

Jim Bob: Oh so like, "players should adjust their play style to the situation." Well, um, yeah.

Ron Edwards: A great deal of attention and rhetoric is devoted to "in-character" (IC) and "out-of-character" (OOC) role-playing, but I think that this topic is not related to Stance. IC role-playing, at its most literal, means that the role-player is using first-person diction to communicate the character's actions, and OOC role-playing means that he or she using third-person diction.

Jim Bob: Say what? No, "in-character" and "out-of-character"don't just mean whether the player is saying "I say" or "my guy says". There's IC and OOC knowledge of setting, of rules and so on. There's IC and OOC decisions made because of IC and OOC things, and vice versa. You put that all under "Stance". Or were you redefining words again?

Ron Edwards: In the text of Nobilis, for instance, IC/OOC terminology is consistently used to indicate, as far as I can tell, Actor vs. Author Stance.

Jim Bob: Oh, so they're in fact the same thing? Stance, and IC/OOC? Or perhaps it's simply that when you tried to match the three Stances to IC/OOC, the Director Stance didn't match either, so you got confused? You could have just had a pair, but you like the trinities, don't you? Three Stances, three modes of play, etc.

Ron Edwards: Immersion is another difficult issue that often arises in Stance discussions. Like "realism" and "completeness" and several other terms, it has many different definitions in role-playing culture. The most substantive definition that I have seen is that immersion is the sense of being "possessed" by the character. This phenomenon is not a stance, but a feeling.

Jim Bob: Sounds like being very much "in-character" to me. Or what did you call it? "Actor Stance". Can't it just be an extreme version of Actor Stance? Of playing in-character?

Ron Edwards: Therefore, I suggest that immersion (an internal sensation) is at least highly associated with Actor Stance. Whether some people get into Actor stance and then "immerse," or others "immerse" and thus willy-nilly are in Actor stance, I don't know.

Jim Bob: Oh, alright then. At least your nonsense is starting to be internally consistent. Let's go on to your Chapter 4- the Basics of Role-playing Design. Though I'm getting a bit tired of this by now...

Ron Edwards: System, system, system. Or more appropriately, design, design, design. The listed elements in Chapter One (character, situation, color, setting, system, initial premise) may be organized to facilitate greater coherence in Chapters Two (GNS, developed Premise) and Chapter Three (Stance), and thus to facilitate more enjoyable play. This principle is often summarized in the catch-phrase, "System does matter."

Jim Bob: So you design a role-playing game or session using all that GNS stuff? That's funny, I was just talking to one of your fans and he told me that GNS isn't about game design. Huh.

Or do you just mean making characters and sessions? Maybe you'll get to it later. Please, go on.

Ron Edwards: By "coherence," I mean the degree to which a group of people can hit upon and sustain a shared Premise (or topic for Exploration, in Simulationist play) - and by definition, continue to enjoy the social role-playing activity consistently. The people do not need to agree in every detail or event of play, and they certainly do not have to conform to a single, immutable Stance or GNS profile. However, to role-play together most successfully, their shared agreements do need to go beyond simply sharing the initial Premise. To whatever extent they do this, they are cohering.

Jim Bob: Mate, you keep giving old words new definitions. Why, for pity's sake? Look, "coherence" means "it makes sense" or "it sticks together." Now here are you saying, "the different bits fit together," and "the players have fun." Bits can fit together without sticking together, haven't you ever made model aeroplanes? Sticking together is "adherence", not "coherence."

So anyway, "coherence" means the group sticks together and has fun. So far as I know, that's the aim of most roleplaying groups. Sounds good! Let's be coherent! I mean that in all ways. Like, we could start by using words with their actual meaning, not some new one we just made up. Could you be more coherent, please Edwards?

Ron Edwards: Character... Effectiveness... Resources... Metagame...

Jim Bob: "The knee-bone's connected to the leg bone, the..." What? What are you telling us here? This is just a catalogue of parts. What's your point? Coherence, please? I'm not having fun anymore. I guess one of us mustn't be "coherent."

Ron Edwards: Currency represents the relationship among the three components, both during character creation and during play. Its name comes from the observations that (1) "amounts" may be shifted and exchanged within and across the three components during character creation, and (2) that features or use of one category may have an impact on the use of the others during play.

Jim Bob: Mate, round these parts we call that "xp". If you're talking about point-buy systems, say so! Sheesh.

Ron Edwards: Reward systems have been very deeply researched by me, but they await a rigorous discussion, as the baseline concepts of GNS, Stance, and the components of Currency must all be integrated.

Jim Bob: Luckily, reward systems have also been very deeply researched by players, especially munchkins. There's a rigorous discussion about them at the end of every game session. Sometimes people throw dice and cheetos.

Ron Edwards: Some of the issues include: What is being rewarded? Attendance? Role-playing per se? Player actions? Outcomes of conflicts? In-game moments?

Jim Bob: Nowadays, in most games, all of the above. If your character does a lot of stuff and you the player are fun to be with, you get xp.

Ron Edwards: Who is being rewarded, the player or the character?

Jim Bob: The player. The character is just a piece of paper, mate. Sorry.

Ron Edwards: Are reward systems necessary? At what scopes or time-frames of play are they more or less important?

Jim Bob: Of course they're necessary. Try not giving out xp for six months and see how many players you have left at the end. Or would they just be those evil Gamists who run off?

Ron Edwards: If we are talking about character improvement, how does it proceed? Linearly or exponentially? If exponentially, is the exponent positive or negative?

Jim Bob: I think you mean "geometrically". And almost all rpgs have a "diminishing returns" or "learning curve" thing going on. If it's 1,000 to 1st level, it's 3,000 to 2nd, etc. If Rank 1 in a skill gives you +5, Rank 11 will give you +2. It's easier to improve from 25% to 30% skill than from 95% to 100% skill. Same all around. Learning curve, diminishing returns. Haven't you read or played a lot of rpgs? Everyone knows this stuff.

Ron Edwards: Do changes in the values and aspects of the character affect the exchange rate of Currency itself?

Jim Bob: What, you mean like when I take a Prestige Class? What the fuck are you talking about?

Ron Edwards: For Event Resolution, the relevant terms are Drama, Fortune, and Karma (often called DFK).

Jim Bob: Are these mutually exclusive, too?

Ron Edwards: These three types of resolution may be combined in a near-infinite variety across the various elements of RPG design; few or no RPGs fail to make use of at least two of them.

Jim Bob: Evidently not. Well, that's a relief. I guess only GNS is an exclusive threesome. The other trinities get to whore around a bit, eh? Yes, you have correctly described three broad categories of event resolution. So what?

Ron Edwards: .. Switches and Dials...

Jim Bob: Oh, you mean player choices about character creation? Again with the new definitions for old words.

Ron Edwards: The following topics have all been researched by me across the vast majority of role-playing game designs since the invention of the hobby. Some of them have been broached in public forums, and others have not. I have avoided discussing them to any depth, given the general lack of understanding of the foundational principles of this essay,

Jim Bob: I'm not sure how we're supposed to understand that which you are so bad at expressing yourself. You're not even saying, "nobody understands me!" instead, "hoodgiflop banana upwards." Try speaking in plain English like a normal person, then maybe people will understand all this.

Unless of course, despite your truly horrendous writing, they in fact do understand it, and think it's a load of old bollocks anyway.

But enough of this nonsense. Let's step onwards into the brave new world of your next chapter, "Role-playing Design and Coherence." This should be good. Except of course that GNS is not a game design tool, all the Edwards-fanboyz tell me. Ahem.

Ron Edwards: This chapter investigates how role-playing design is involved in facilitating or inhibiting coherence.

Jim Bob: What was "coherence", again?

Ron Edwards: By "coherence," I mean the degree to which a group of people can hit upon and sustain a shared Premise (or topic for Exploration, in Simulationist play) - and by definition, continue to enjoy the social role-playing activity consistently.

Jim Bob: Oh, that's right. "Getting your shit together as a group and having fun."

Ron Edwards: It may fairly be asked, how can GNS be applied to design features, when few if any RPG designers know about it, or even care? I use a physics analogy: prior to the insights of Newtonian physics, bridges could be built. Some of them were built rather well. However, in retrospect -

Jim Bob: Wait a minute. GNS is like physics? Like Maxwell's equations, Fourier Transforms, Quantum Mechanics, elliptical orbits, differentials giving tangents to curves, ohmeters, and all that? Wow. Are you sure that going from something small like GNS to something big like physics isn't... committing synecdoche? Confusing something unimportant, poorly-expressed and roundly-mocked with something important, well-expressed and greatly-respected? Or would that be redefining the meaning of "synecdoche". Mustn't go around redefining words, right?

Ron Edwards: Therefore, the theory-principles or stated intent of the designer, if any, are irrelevant to the analysis of the RPG designs. For instance, John Wick had no interest in GNS or any other theory when writing Orkworld. However... to produce that game, he utilized and developed principles of Narrativism...

Jim Bob: Amazing! So even people who never heard of GNS believe in it? Isn't that what the Mormons say about the Amerindians and Jesus? Or was that the Scientologists, I forget. That's pretty cool, though. Even people who never heard of your theory believe in it. It must be pretty fucking amazing to be able to achieve that.

Ron Edwards: In terms of design, the issue is incoherence -

Jim Bob: Hang on, so game designs can be "incoherent"? I thought it was only game groups. Are you saying that some game systems can cause game groups to lose their shit and be unhappy? You were saying "System Matters" earlier, so, you know...

Only thing is, not many people say, "wow, such an amazing group of wonderful people, it's a pity we played Cyborg Commando, that was so incoherent and we had no fun." If it's people they enjoy the company of... they have fun whatever the system. Sure, some systems they'll have more fun than others. But no game book makes some group fly apart at the edges in a dreadful howl of "incoherent" rage. Or does it, in Edwardsland? You know, that place where everyone is "tired, bitter and frustrated"?

Ron Edwards: The new revolution

Jim Bob:?

Ron Edwards: Recent directions in RPG design are breaking new ground across GNS, especially in terms of how Stance relates to the modes. Only now are we seeing such things as mechanics-driven Director Stance in Simulationism and in Gamism. It's also nice to see Narrativist design following up on the precedent set by Prince Valiant, with Premise based on Situation (The Dying Earth).

Jim Bob: So like the new revolution is based on old games? (Prince Valiant was written in 1989, at least seven years before anything resembling GNS was spoken of publicly.) So really the "revolution" is a true "revolution" – it rolls around and comes back to where it started? Mate, I hope not, I hated that when my first character, Jim Bob the Luckless, was eaten by a Gelatinous Cube...

Ron Edwards: Fortune methods may clearly be employed extensively in the service of metagame goals. I specifically disavow the popular notion that these methods serve only for in-setting probabilistic modeling, and the associated notion that they have little place in Narrativism or Gamism.

Jim Bob: "I like to roll dice." Yes, Edwards, most of us do. That's why we even sometimes buy them by the pound. Again, long words for short ideas. Just say, "I like to roll dice." Is it so hard?

Ron Edwards: I would very much like to participate in a discussion of Fortune systems acting as a "springboard" for metagame priorities in Narrativist play, as suggested by the designs of InSpectres, The Pool, The Framework, Munchkins, and others.

Jim Bob: Still in the Revolutionary phase, we see that the Revolutionary games are those made by people who post regularly to Ron's home message board of The Forge. So, buddy up with Ron Edwards if you want him to call you "Revolutionary."

Ron Edwards: One of the benefits of the GNS perspective is the willingness to accept that other outlooks or priorities exist besides one's own.

Jim Bob: You mean like those parenthetical social things? Or do you just mean, "hey, I'm G, baby, you're S, but that's cool, I can dig it."

Ron Edwards: "Balance" may rank as the most problematic term in all of role-playing. What in the world does it mean?...

Jim Bob: You don't know what "game balance" means? That explains Sorceror...

Ron Edwards: Currently little insight arises from discussions of balance, as it inevitably wanders about these issues without focusing.

Jim Bob: You mean like your discussion of Simulationism?

Ron Edwards: Can multiple GNS goals be satisfied by a single game design? It may be possible, but it is not easy. As mentioned before, merely aligning topics of Exploration with those of Premise is probably not effective. I conceive of two types of hybrid: (1) two modes are simultaneously satisfied in the same player at the same time, of which I am highly skeptical; and (2) two modes can exist side by side in the design, such that differently-oriented players may play together, which might be possible.

Jim Bob: Hang on, hang on. Earlier you said that we couldn't possibly have two of the three of GNS together at once. Now you're only "skeptical"? Which is it? Impossible, or you're sceptical it's possible? Could you pelase hold one consistent opinion throughout the essay? It's supposed to be a "definitive lexicon", can't be that "definitive" if you keep changing your mind.

And you're saying it's possible for players who want different things to play together? Amazing! Really? Like, I can be the cleric and you can be the thief, we don't have to both be clerics or thieves? Wow. I am in total amazement. I never would have thought of that.

Ron Edwards: Incoherent design
Unfortunately, functional or nearly-functional hybrids are far less common than simply incoherent RPG designs.

The "lesser," although still common, dysfunctional trend is found among the imitators of the late-1970s release of AD&D, composed of vague and scattered Simulationism mixed with vague and scattered Gamism.

Jim Bob: I see. So if a game doesn't fit neatly into one of your three categories, then the game is "incoherent". So people won't have any fun with it. No, wait, you can't say that you didn't say that. You said that "System Matters", that "Incoherence" means people aren't having fun, and that AD&D is an "incoherent" design. Therefore, no-one ever had fun playing AD&D. Must be why about a gazillion people played it, eh? Or perhaps they only thought they were having fun, really they were miserable? Perhaps it's that brain damage kicking in again. But I thought that youbased your theory on what roleplayers actually said to you? Or is it only, beleive them when it supports my ideas, tell them they're delusional when it doesn't?

Could it possibly be that your categories are wrong? And that's why AD&D doesn't fit neatly into them? "Honey, I made you a pair of pants to wear. They have a 36" waist, and 36" hips. Same all over. It's a coherent pants design."

"I have 36" hips and 24" waist. They don't fit."

"Well obviously your body design is incoherent."

Ron Edwards: Actually Playing -

Jim Bob: No thanks, I've had enough.

Ron Edwards: But it's just a game!

This phrase is an alarm bell. Oh, it looks like an attempt to reconciliate disagreements by calling attention to fun and the shared, social context, but it disguises something far more unpleasant.

Jim Bob: Shared social context has beneath it something unpleasant? Maybe in your game group, but...

Ron Edwards: Like it or not, among any group of people contributing to some constructive activity, there exists a the aforementioned Balance of Power: some hierarchy and way to organize who gets to influence and approve of outcomes. For the activity to succeed, some form of social contract, or reciprocal obligations, must be in place.

Jim Bob: Woohoo, we're getting actual science in here? Well, sociology at least? Or do you just mean that thing where people try to get their shit together and not be arseholes to one another?

Ron Edwards: In role-playing games, the issue of the social contract becomes quickly confounded with the distribution and difference in the roles of GM and players. Entirely aside from any formal rules-oriented or procedure-oriented authority, what kind of authority or status does a GM have over or with the players anyway? Is he or she the physical host, using physical living or work space for the game? If not, does that change or limit the GM-ness? How about a faculty member running games with students in a campus club? How about romance issues; if single, is he or she automatically the focus of personal attention from other single people in the group?

Jim Bob: Okay, maybe not so much with the sociology, then. But hey, these are important issues. They've sure as shit broken up more game groups than arguments about what Gamism is. So you'll talk about them, right?

Ron Edwards: Most of these issues cannot be addressed from the perspective of game design, but they are real nonetheless. Where the game design and GNS-based approach to play can help is in putting all the issues of the role-playing itself above-board. Given clear roles, purposes, and respective obligations of GM and player - which in most RPG designs are left open or badly mis-stated - the group may avoid getting its role-playing issues mixed up with its social ones.

Jim Bob: So... if I know I'm a Gamist, and my h4wt single GM is a Simulationist, this will help me deal with my lust for her? This will settle what to do about the guy who never brings his own dice? No? But you just said that this stuff can all help. Now I'm just confused.

Ron Edwards: A final issue about GM and player(s) concerns who is expected to be entertaining whom, in some kind of dichotomous way. Evidently this is a matter of some emotional commitment, prompting the same defensiveness and hurt feelings as the mention of "immersion." Therefore I am personally willing to let it lie.

Jim Bob: Mate, the GM and the players are there to entertain each-other. If one fails to do this, we call them "boring" and don't game with them again. Is this really a serious question in Edwardsland? All gamers are there in the group to entertain each-other. If they don't like that, we send them away to play WoW.

Ron Edwards: What is a "story" to be, in terms of individual sessions and all-sessions? In role-playing culture, one is often assumed either to be playing a "campaign," which means it should go on forever, or a "one-shot" session which aside from the connotation of being superficial is simply too short for many sorts of stories. The functional intermediate of playing the number of sessions sufficient for the purpose of resolving a story is nowhere to be found in the texts of role-playing.

Jim Bob: Mate, what the fuck do you think Dragonlance was? Was it an open-ended campaign? Nope. Was it a one-shot? That'd be a hella session! It was a middle-length, closed-ended campaign. And Against the Giants, and all the rest. Or don't adventure modules count as "texts of role-playing"?

Like Prince Valiant, we see here another twenty-year old idea Edwards claims as his own original genius.

Ron Edwards: Dysfunction: when role-playing doesn't work out

Great Googley-Moogley, let me count the ways.

Jim Bob: What did you say, Gromit?

Ron Edwards: The clearest case is straightforward. People do exist who will habitually disrupt a role-playing group for whatever reasons of their own, and the only solution for dealing with such people is to exclude them from play.

But let's consider people who do want to role-play together, and have even established an interest in the most basic, embryonic form of an initial Premise. What dysfunctions may arise?

Emotional tensions between people may override the role-playing. It can be romance, or money issues, or who's giving whom a ride home, or any number of similar things. My claim is that a lot of times, people get all upset at one another about game stuff (tactics, rules, etc) when the real problem is this people stuff. Such problems must be dealt with socially and above-board, because no in-game mechanisms can help; in-game issues are symptoms rather than causes.

I think the most common dysfunction, however, is GNS incompatibility. At the highest-order level, if the people simply have entirely different goals, then actual play continually runs into conflicts about priorities and procedures based on those different goals. I think everyone who's familiar with the theory knows that this is a "no fault, no blame" criterion. I like potatos, you like pink lemonade, have a nice game with your own group.

Jim Bob: See now this was looking like a sane and useful passage. Talking about real problems real gamers have. Then you had to go and bring GNS into it. Players argue, but most of all over Gamism, Narrativism, and Simulationism? No. Just no. What planet are you living on?

Ron Edwards: I have met dozens, perhaps over a hundred, very experienced role-players with this profile: a limited repertoire of games behind him and extremely defensive and turtle-like play tactics. Ask for a character background, and he resists, or if he gives you one, he never makes use of it or responds to cues about it. Ask for actions - he hunkers down and does nothing unless there's a totally unambiguous lead to follow or a foe to fight. His universal responses include "My guy doesn't want to," and, "I say nothing."

Jim Bob: So you have met players who had arseholes as GMs. Too much Tomb of Horrors. This has nothing to do with GNS, this has to do with GMs being arseholes, being out to get their players, or being too stupid to think of plot hooks other than "haha, I'll kidnap his sister." GNS has sweet fuck-all and nothing to do with it. Nothing.

Ron Edwards: These role-players are GNS casualties.... They are simultaneously devoted to and miserable in their hobby.

Jim Bob: Are we still talking about The Forge? Because, "devoted to and miserable in their hobby" really sounds like a lot of posters there. And you. You hate us. You think we're brain-damaged, can't possibly understand your tremendous genius, and...

Ron Edwards: My goal in developing RPG theory and writing this document is to help people avoid this fate.

Jim Bob: Start by deleting the GNS essay from the site.

In closing, I think I can say that Ron Edwards' incoherence has made me tired, bitter and frustrated.

Ron Edwards: Fuck you.

Jim Bob: Okay, he didn't really say that last one, but I think it's a reasonable extrapolation from all this.

Socratic dialogues roxxorz. GNS suxxorz.
Tags: roleplaying

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