2009-05-05 : Reconsidering Sim (the word)

Once upon a time, not long ago, Jonathan Walton said to me this:

Vincent, you're such a dirty Sim-lover at heart, really.

To which I responded:

...And this certainly has nothing to do with Right to Dream play, if that's what you mean by Sim, Jonathan.

So that was pretty tetchy of me. Obviously, that's not what he meant. He meant quite something else - and yes, I am and have always been the sim-lover he was talking about.

But I'm like a guy with a nervous twitch and a stick. Say "sim" to me and see what happens.

Then just yesterday, I totally ambushed Alex D. I was like "say sim to me and see what happens!" and he was like "okay ... 'sim.'" I managed self control with him, since I was the one doing the damn ambushing, not like I did with poor Jonathan.

So then. I've been thinking about this for a while and what with the ambushing, it's time to enact a new policy. This might be kind of a big deal but it's my blog and I can do what I want, see if I can't. Ready?

"The Right to Dream" is the name of the creative agenda. If you're talking about the creative agenda, say "right to dream." I've been doing this myself for a while, the right to dream, story now, step on up. Now it's policy here, so please join me.

"Sim" is not defined. If you say "sim," people may or may not be able to figure out what you mean. Be prepared to explain!

We might define sim later, for our purposes here, or not, depending on what we need to do. We will NOT define it as a creative agenda; the correct and proper name of that creative agenda is "the Right to Dream."

This new policy is crucial right now, because the approach to techniques I'm talking about these days is making people think "sim," because of what the word meant before the creative agenda.

1. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:

"But, Vincent, I strongly identify as a simulationist, and 'the right to dream' is a terrible name for what I do. I hate it and won't abide by it."

Imaginary person, rejoice! Hooray! By this policy, I set you free. Keep your identification as a simulationist, let "the right to dream" be its own thing, not simulationism, and be free of it. When you talk about simulationism, just be prepared to explain what you mean.


2. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:

Questions welcome!


3. On 2009-05-05, Graham said:

Hey, Vincent. Why would you do this? People talk about Sim more than they do Right To Dream: it's, arguably, as correct a name for the creative agenda as Sim is.

So why are we talking about defining things? What's the point in that?



4. On 2009-05-05, Graham said:, I meant "as correct a name for the creative agenda as Right To Dream is".

So, yes. The name of the creative agenda is Sim. Everyone calls it that. What's your problem, Design God?



5. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:

I know very, very few people who use "sim" correctly, if its correct use means the creative agenda. The word's actively misleading, and I've been complaining about that since before my archives start. Everybody uses "sim," but almost everybody uses it wrong.

A while ago, I found myself saying for the umpteenth time, "if only the creative agendas had different names..." and it came upon me with the kind of flash that you get when you realize something really stupidly obvious that, in fact, they do.

Be the change, right? So I've been using the new, less actively misleading name myself for a while, and now it's time to make it a thing here at anyway.


6. On 2009-05-05, ShawnI said:

Can you identify for us a place where people are using it incorrectly?  As in, they are not actually talking about the creative agenda?  I believe you, and I'm fine with the new term - actually, I like the revised terms better, since they make it clearer to me what people want out of roleplaying - but I am hoping that you can point at some things and say "see, they say Sim, but that isn't _really_ Sim" then I can get a better handle on what Sim really is.


7. On 2009-05-05, Jim Henley said:

Gosh, but this would free up the term "sim" to take back its perfectly intelligible rgfa meaning.

Agreed that it makes sense, nevertheless, to be explicit when one uses it in that sense.


8. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:


Shawn: Sure. Jonathan's use of sim here, Alex's here (which is my fault, not his). They're both talking about an approach to techniques, compatible with any of the creative agendas, not about right-to-dream play.

This policy is, in fact, crucial right now, given the stuff I'm talking about, for exactly the reason Jonathan illustrates. (Sorry to use you as an illustration all offhandedly, Jonathan!) I AM talking about rgfa simulationism, put to use to serve story now and step on up game design. It's not mysterious that people will read what I'm saying, think "sim," and get distracted and confused about creative agenda. (In fact I believe I'll edit something to that effect into the opening post.)


9. On 2009-05-05, Roger said:

Speaking of terminology abuse and the rectification thereof, "creative agenda" has gotten pretty beat up over the years.


10. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:

That's not my crusade. The word "sim" is interfering with understanding, here and now. "Creative agenda" isn't.


11. On 2009-05-05, Gregor said:

Here, here.

When techniques and ephemera get labelled as "s*m, g*m*st or n*r play" it turns milk in front of my eyes. (Or maybe turns your whey to ricotta?!)

Anyway, I'm all for using the essay names for the Creative Agendas. I first noticed it in "It Was A Mutual Decision", and while I thought "Hmm, that's unusual" at first (and I was sure it was not accidental), I now look back and think "yeah, it had to be that way—and it's clearer for it too".

So, my take is we'll look back in a year on this thread and go "Gee, wasn't it always this way?" Well, I can hope.


12. On 2009-05-05, Roger said:

So are you a dirty Right-to-Dream-lover at heart?


13. On 2009-05-05, Alex D. said:

Yes, your entirely right. When I said "sim" I didn't really mean Right to Dream, and my usage of "gamist" probably doesn't entirely match up, either.

When I say "sim" I simply mean a set of techniques focused on things like "The GM is just having her characters do what they would do given their natures and circumstances.", and possibly also Dog's "actively reveal the town in play".

These techniques simulate something, sure, which is why I'm lazy and say "sim". They don't neccessarily have anything to do with Right to Dream, though.

Anyhow, I'll keep the distinctions in mind for the future. Thanks for clearing things up!


14. On 2009-05-05, David Berg said:

I heartily agree, fuck "Sim".  "Right to Dream play" takes longer to type, though.  Can we acronymize?

"Screw Nar, I'm in the mood for some RTD."
"I can't play with him, he's an inveterate RTDer."


15. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:

Alex: Right on.

Roger: No. I'll play right-to-dream, but only under pretty specialized circumstances. I've designed one right-to-dream game (kill puppies for satan) and I've got another on a back burner (FIRESTORM: BATTLE FOR THE SLAVE PLANET), but both of them specifically criticize the social functions right-to-dream games usually serve.


16. On 2009-05-05, Marco said:

Just go with the canonical meaning and use the term "Sin."



17. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:

Or, well, that is, kill puppies for satan says "up yours, Vampire the Masquerade!" and FIRESTORM says "up yours, the imagery of Warhammer 40K!" Whether they really criticize the social anything, who knows and whatever.


18. On 2009-05-05, Alex D. said:

Vincent: For "FIRESTORM: BATTLE FOR THE SLAVE PLANET", is the all-caps neccessary? And is it meant to link it to kill puppies' all lowercase?

Also... it sounds interesting.

Marco: I'm not sure if that's a typo or if you're trying to say something clever there... the sentance had me confused for a bit trying to figure it out.


19. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:

Marco: what's a sin, now?


20. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:

Alex: Strictly necessary, oh yes. Also an affectation of mine that I don't really expect anybody else to adhere to.


21. On 2009-05-05, misuba said:

You'd ah, better sticky this post.


22. On 2009-05-05, Meserach said:

It took over four years, but you finally snapped, huh?

(I'm thinking here of:

This needed to happen, and whether you're up for it or not, I'd love to see it spread and be adopted (however that works) as a widespread, default modification to the Big Model.


23. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:

Yeah. I'm'a let it boil itself down and sticky some kind of summary afterward. Some kind of thick gooey right-to-dream/sim/sin syrup.

Hey Marco, let me try again. I'm willing to talk about the things that I think are sins, and the things I don't think are sins, if you want to. If you do, let me start a new thread and we can just talk about it, okay?


24. On 2009-05-05, Marco said:

I'm all kinds of down with that (I actually thought 'define sin' was a beautiful answer—well in keeping with the discourse) but, yes, we can have the for real discussion—I'm up for giving it ago. :)



25. On 2009-05-05, Alex D. said:

Sin, eh?
Talk about some GM fiat, right there. Does having the moral high ground give me a +2?

(The internet makes interpretation hard. There seems to be some humor going on here, so I figured I'd throw my hand in and try to lighten things up - I'm not trying to be disrespectful to anyone, though.)

And I would like to see your definition of "Sim". And I wouldn't mind seeing your definition of "Sin", either, though I'm not certain this is the right place for it - but hey, it's your blog-thing.


26. On 2009-05-05, monkeybutter said:

So, I want a single word, not a phrase. Ideally an 'ism.'

Considering the discussion at:

I propose 'Idealism' extracted from 'realizing the ideal.'


27. On 2009-05-05, Alex D. said:

I'm personally wary of "Idealism". It seems to carry too much un-related-to-gaming baggage for me to feel comfortable with.

I can certainly see where you're coming from with it, though.


28. On 2009-05-05, Meserach said:

I love "Idealism"! Man, just think of the whole new levels of misunderstanding this will generate once say, gets hold of it.


29. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:

I don't know how serious you're being, monkeybutter, but nope, the new name's a done deal.

No need to debate possible names, everybody. It's a done deal, full stop. The right to dream, story now, step on up.


30. On 2009-05-05, Meserach said:

Vincent, it's your blog and your call, of course. But there's a reason people used the shorter -ism words rather than the lengthy, somewhat ridiculous sounding phrases.

(Imagine if we'd had to talk about SoUSNRtD rather than GNS....)


31. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:

Better if they're ridiculous-sounding! They mean particular, non-casual things; making them awkward to use means that when people are speaking casually they won't use 'em. I think it's desirable.

Me, like I say I've been using them almost exclusively for like six months, and it's been nothing but beneficial. I wish it upon everybody.


32. On 2009-05-05, Marco said:

Alex: it was the 'clever' one—just changing a letter between sand-box play goodness and all kinds of moral degeneracy! Just like the difference between Sim City and Sin City (see!! It works!).

More seriously (it seems I have a hard time restraining myself) some have held that Sim was the least favorite son of the GNS triad and I was also riffing on that.



33. On 2009-05-05, Jesse Burneko said:

I've been behind using the new names for years and try to use them whenever I can.  It becomes problematic because The Right To Dream is an awkward phrase that isn't as pro-active as the others.  I can talk about Story Now play, and Step On Up play but The Right To Dream play sounds weird.

There was a phrase being thrown around the theory forums on The Forge right before they were shut down.  That phrase was Constructive Denial which I like much more because it fits the pro-activeness of the other phrases.  However, it never caught on and it has the misfortune of sounding negative.

So, Right To Dream it is.



34. On 2009-05-05, Mark Woodhouse said:

RTD is the proper name. If I want a shorthand, I've always liked 'fanfic'. For a while, I tried specifying GNS-S or Big Model Sim, but that just seems to trigger people's b**** d*****

Although I fully support the construction of a model describing the Sin, Guyness, and Nancyboy agendas.


35. On 2009-05-06, Jim Henley said:

I AM talking about rgfa simulationism, put to use to serve story now and step on up game design.

Gotcha. That makes perfect sense. Even back in the day, rgfa was bothered by the fact that "sim" was defined negatively (by what it wasn't) rather than in terms of a positive program (what it was for), IIRC. What Big Model Theory has helped me see is that the reason for that is that rgfa sim can be for different things.


36. On 2009-05-06, GB Steve said:

I'm still thinking that there are more kinds of play than thought of in your philosophy. GNS/Big Model comes from a certain angle and privileges a particular kind of play. A kind of play that is fun but in the scheme of things, uncommon.

So, you can call it what you will, and still we'll play.


37. On 2009-05-06, Jim Henley said:

Hi Steve. I think it's important to distinguish the Big Model itself from its surround. The surround has historically been enthused about a political project - using mechanics to "objectively" redistribute authority from gamemaster to table at large - that is an uncommon enthusiasm among roleplaying gamers broadly considered. And those same people have been disproportionately drawn to and influential on the elaboration of TBM to date. They're people who needed to be able to articulate the kind of gaming they wanted to do and TBM gave them a way to do that. (Most of the resulting games aren't my thing, but they make the people who like them happy.)

But the overall structure of TBM - social context undergirded by creative and technical agendas supported (or thwarted) by clusters of mechanics and instantiated in real interactions around the table (even if one insists on calling them ephemera) seems largely sound, and largely productive. There's nothing in that schema that inherently limits it to justifying the ways of mechanically mediated credibility contests. TBM in itself does not say that once you've labeled something "GM fiat" that you've ended a discussion. TBM doesn't say there's no such thing as immersion so shut up and play Capes. TBM is an idea that has achieved a certain expression to this point in time, is all.

Not only can the Model develop in new directions under the influence of new people who take it up, I think it will develop in new directions under the influence of "the same old people" because the same old people aren't the same - the same gamer/designer's interests will often change over time, cause gamers and designers are people. Hence the number of "story gamers" who have gotten excited about Jeepform in the last year.

Um, Vincent, feel free to escalate to gunfire if I'm dragging things off-topic. I see the above as relevant to your current set of threads, which seem to me very much in service of extending The Big Model to cover subjects it hadn't quite gotten to yet. But I'm probably skating toward turning this thread into one more "GNS: Threat or Menace?" debate.


38. On 2009-05-06, Josh W said:

I would like to bring into the open that approach that keeps hiding under "sim", along with "right to dream", so lets see if I can:

It is a stance to the SIS which is "consistency is paramount", or "imaginary facts". In other words through memory or actual writing down, the SIS has a history that cannot be chucked out (although it can be cleverly retconned), it has a cannon. And what is more, those events are present now. They may not totally determine events, but they still appear.
Now why is this important, and how far does it go?

To look at an example where it failed you only have to look at Heroes third season; collaborative story telling in the writers room, with people with a strong idea of how the scene should go, so because of the needs of "drama" characters behave totally out of character, with no perceptible internal cause. It's all nonsense until you step back and go "Oh, they are inserting a premade "cool scene" into the flow of events, and so breaking all their conventional rules." Now Sylar can show up just because he's "a baddy", not because he has transport powers, but when encountering the mythic power of closets, he can't do anything.

I have a visceral dislike of this kind of magical thinking, especially around children, because in my family we know of a child who learned from watching horror movies that the best thing to do when scared was to arm yourself with a kitchen knife, because she had been taught a causal relation between kitchen knives and the resolution of scary situations. Fortunately that got sorted out, but just cause you ignore causality, doesn't mean a warped one won't appear, and you don't have to be a child to see it's potential for application.

So firstly you can see the educative value of such a focus on history, it seems like a subcultural rebellion against deux ex convention, focusing on Leibniz style "sufficient reason" over myth-style "thematic rhyming". It's also treating the made up stuff with enough respect to let it have it's own history, like when writers "cannot" get their character to do certain things.

Another value for it is pure and simple imagination stretching: You can't imagine a situation like that? Well you'll have to get used to it, because it's happening now. It's expanding your idea of unintended consequence, as well as discouraging close-minded approaches.

Now you could see those two goals in a bit of a fight; sensible cause patterns vs imagination stretching. But providing the play produces the latter from the first, then it's doing something of value.

Now is that some new creative agenda? Is it part of right to dream? But regardless, it's a why, and one among many. Others are:

I want that achievement to stay achieved!

I want to forget about the outside world and loose myself in a different set of causes and things.

I want to build a statement about something, and that means the different parts of it have to stay there.


You can do narrativism without any shared history, you just vote on what happens! And everyone decides for themselves why that happens. You can do conflict without it, purely based on disconnected rounds of using the mechanics. So what does it add as you push more of this history into the now of the game?

What do you reckon, have I grabbed it?


39. On 2009-05-06, Vincent said:

> Now is that some new creative agenda? Is it part of right to dream?

Absolutely neither! It's what Ben Lehman and I have called a technical agenda - that is, an approach to cause and effect in the game.

Cause and effect, now, meaning who says what about what, when, and whether we take their word for it. NOT in-fiction cause and effect.


> You can do narrativism without any shared history, you
> just vote on what happens! And everyone decides for
> themselves why that happens. You can do conflict without
> it, purely based on disconnected rounds of using the
> mechanics.

This is as poor a way to play story now as it is to play right to dream. All the creative agendas are served by shared in-fiction history.


40. On 2009-05-06, Vincent said:

Jim: With you all the way, no surprise.


41. On 2009-05-07, Larry L said:


Thank you. Amen.


42. On 2009-05-07, GB Steve said:

I shouldn't have said that, it doesn't serve any purpose. I must have been feeling tetchy yesterday. Sorry.


43. On 2009-05-07, Josh W said:

Drat, first draft of my last post kept two things separate, "the why" we do it, and "the how". Would you agree that the whys are the arena of creative agenda, and the how is the realm of technical agenda?

I ask because my paragraphs 4 5 and 6 are supposed to be about a concrete reason that draws people together for such a game "I'm tired of this kind of story, lets make a different kind". Some people get real satisfaction in saying "The world doesn't know you're the hero, you need to prove it" or "We're not going to play nice here, we will resolutely follow consequence and see where it leads us" not just 'cause they want to be tough, but because that concreteness and the way it meshes with their experience is satisfying. It's the scientist approach, where you want to see emergent effects appear in front of you. Now what I was wondering is whether you think that "why" is covered by "right to dream"?

I totally agree that all agendas can be helped by internal history, that's what I was getting at with the list of other reasons why, covering what I currently understand about big model creative agendas. What interested me was shifting to another play style, another technical agenda, and seeing what was missing, what advantages we could gain by adding back in "what would happen if" elements.


44. On 2009-05-07, Vincent said:

Josh: Everything you say makes good sense to me, except when you bring creative agenda into it. This, for instance:

> Some people get real satisfaction in saying "The world
> doesn't know you're the hero, you need to prove it" or
> "We're not going to play nice here, we will resolutely
> follow consequence and see where it leads us" not just
> 'cause they want to be tough, but because that concreteness
> and the way it meshes with their experience is satisfying.

This is true, of course. It's true across the creative agendas. It applies to some but not all step on up play, some but not all story now play, and some but not all right to dream play.

If you say to me, "in the game I'm playing, the world doesn't know my character is a hero, I have to prove it," you've told me something interesting and concrete about your game, but not about your game's creative agenda. It could be any, equally likely; you haven't pointed toward any of them in particular.


45. On 2009-05-07, Jim Henley said:

My Big Model Heresy (relates to the two previous posts):

The Ephemera layer is trumps.

There are Ephemeral Agendas, and to the extent anything has primacy, it's them.

Every other layer exists to produce ephemera in a satisfying (or displeasing) proportion.

We game for the same reason we do most unnecessary things: to feel certain ways. It's the at the ephemera layer that we feel.


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