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28 March 2008 @ 03:29 pm
GNS: saying it my way  
I'm not saying anything new here. I'm just trying to say some things in my own words for my own benefit. If anyone else goes, 'ah, cool! I never understood it that way before," then cool. But that probably won't happen.

Creative Agenda
Creative Agenda is a Forge game design term that stands for the "social and aesthetic parameters"[1] that people use when figuring out (together!) what happens in a role-playing game. The parameters are the player's agenda. The figuring-out-together is the creative part; they're creating.

I believe that a creative agenda cannot exist in a role-playing game session without social reinforcement. That is, a single player cannot have a creative agenda. It doesn't become a creative agenda until other players start reinforcing my behavior with rewards. Creative agenda is, therefore, a filter by which we decide what content to introduce into our games, and it's a filter with expectation of a certain return (reward). It's a type of test for players. You do X in the real world and Y happens in the game and that makes you feel Z in the real world; now, was Z what you wanted to happen? Note that the test isn't "was Y what you wanted to have happen?" because that's largely irrelevant here. We're talking about the feelings of real people. Yeah, Y is important, but only insofar as how it makes you-the-player feel.

So creative agenda is a set of judgments about what is fun play, shared by the play group.

There are (at least) three well-known creative agendas: Gamism, Narrativism, and Simulationism. They're often abbreviated G, N, and S (sometimes Gam, Nar, and Sim) and together they make GNS. GNS as a thing is often used to suggest that those three are the entire universe of possible creative agendas. I don't know if that's true, but I haven't seen a creative agenda that didn't seem to fit into one of those.

Gamism occurs when players filter their inputs based on winning and showing off their mastery of various game-related skills, and they are rewarded by other players recognizing their victory or skill. Gamism's test of creative input is, "will this contribute towards the other players (my allies) and I winning?" (or whatever way you measure "success" in the game).

Narrativism occurs when players filter their inputs based on making a point and exploring issues of human nature important to real people, and they are rewarded by other players recognizing the importance of those issues to the player addressing them. Narrativism's test of creative input is, "does this address a human issue important to me or other players?"

Simulationism occurs when players filter their inputs based on fidelity to some shared ideal, and they are rewarded by other players recognizing the rightness of what they have collectively created. Simulationism's test of creative input is, "do I and the other players feel this is right?" Substitute your favorite word for "right": believable, true, credible, faithful, realistic, accurate, legal.

If your group is playing without hitting a creative agenda and having fun, hey, cool. But I'm pretty sure that each player has goals of play that align pretty closely with G, N, or S -- they may change over time or even over the course of a single play session, but they probably hit on one or more of those goals more often than not. If you don't think so, ask yourself, "What standard do I use to judge whether something I am saying -- something my friend is saying -- is fun?" It's probably pretty close to one of the three GNS boxes. Now, if each player has a different idea of what makes fun, how do you maximize fun for the group?

Coherence occurs when everyone is hitting the same creative agenda. Sim Sam says, "I have the most fun when the game feels realistic and we focus on what the character is feeling. All this metagame talk pulls me out of immersion. I get pissed off when you make decisions using metagame information." Nar Nancy says, "I have the most fun when I feel like we're really talking about something important. You know, important to real people. Sorry, Sam: I don't mean to say what you care about is not important, but I mean it isn't important to me. It's all fictional stuff, and I'm more interested in making some moral points about the real world, maybe learning a bit more about you guys as people, too. I like the metagame talk. I like the dramatic irony in the game when we all know as players what is happening but the character continues doing something wrong." Gam Gary says, "Whatever, dudes. All that metagame talk bores the crap out of me. And who cares about what is realistic? The rules clearly don't. I want to know what the rules are up front so that I can use them for maximum effect. I like building the most effective character and facing challenges and really beating the system. Bring it on! Is it realistic that I carry five different magical swords? Who cares! The rules don't say I can't. And I couldn't care less about the moral implications of mowing down enemies. They're bad guys. They're there to kill, so I can advance my character. Character optimization is fun. That's why I'm here."

Incoherence (another Forge term) is when a play group can't work out the differences between their different player goals and things in the game break down. It's an awful term because one common definition of "incoherent" suggests talking like a blithering idiot. But the term is meant in the Latin-root sense, which really isn't that uncommon a form of the word: not coherent, not cohering, not holding together. When a group can't work out their at-odds goals for play, play falls apart. Pretty simple.

Imagine the arguments Gary, Sam, and Nancy might have if they can't work out their differences. It's not implausible that they'll find a compromise, though, surely. But when Gary is having a blast -- when he's in his full glory -- Sam and Nancy aren't in their sweet spots. They might even be bored. Hopefully, they're having fun, indirectly, watching Gary get all hot and bothered by the tactical and strategic elements of the game. And waiting for their turn in the spotlight.

It still seems less than optimal, though, and Creative Agenda theory talks about why some gaming groups have problems but it doesn't really offer a fix other than, "don't do that." marcochacon often discusses his games with his friends, and he talks about various switching techniques they use to make it work. Everyone seems to have fun, so either they're all on the same page about their creative agenda, or they've worked out their differences between their goals of play.

Anyway, that's what GNS, Creative Agenda, and Coherence/Incoherence mean to me.
ex_greymaide85 on March 28th, 2008 09:35 pm (UTC)
Ever since xiombarg explained it too me, I have found GNS very useful. Whenever I GM a game(unless running a premade module), I always tell my players that I am a decidedly narrativist GM, and very non-gamist. Then I link them to the forge post on the same.

I still occasionally get a rules munchkin who thinks silly things like rules loopholes should get in the way of the story. Those people end up unhappy, so explaining GNS is a great way to prevent that.

Oh yeah, and the narrative element is why I like LARP so much too!
StefanDirkLahrselentic on March 29th, 2008 05:40 pm (UTC)
A great concise explanation of GNS!

I've always had trouble unpacking my goals for play the way your model players above have, however.

Reflecting on this just now, i'd have to say that for the game i'm currently GMing my play goal is to empower the PCs so that by following their individual stories the group constructs a narrative of the setting, building a dynamic world.

I'm not sure where that fits into the CA scheme, exactly. Following from this article, I would have to say it is mostly Simulation. Huh... Not what i would have expected. Do you have to front-load human issues to make it Narrative, or can they emerge in reflection?

Thanks for making me think, though! ;)
 Adam Drayadamdray on March 29th, 2008 07:19 pm (UTC)
I don't think it's all that important to figure out what CA your group is using, if you're already having all the fun you want. You know? If it ain't fix, don't mix your metaphors.

You don't have to front-load your human issues to get Narrativism, no no, but they have to come up in play. If by "emerge in reflection," you mean after the game is over, you construct meaning out of it, that might not be Narrativism as Ron would define it. You need to be hitting those buttons during play or it's not "Story Now" (it's Story After). But you might realize more about the button-pushing after the game is over, sure.

Do realize that these are my personal ideas about GNS and CA, not "The Forge's" (whatever that means) or Ron's or anyone else's. As shown in my last big theory post, my own ideas are diverging from the mainstream, too.