2005-03-05 : Policy in the Face of Failure

I'm sitting here doing my morning surf, clicking here and there, reading a Forge thread if its title catches my eye, reflecting on this ordeal just past...

We failed.

We fought SO HARD to get the identity politics out of GNS. For three years, every single time, one of us would say "there are no Simulationists, there's Simulationist play." "Your question doesn't mean anything," one of us would say, "let's talk about how your game went instead."

We've stopped saying it.

It was inevitable, probably. The subject matter isn't (as Ben pointed out to me) hard like physics, but it's harder than just having an opinion. If, on top of its technical difficulty, you come to it with incorrect preconceptions - it can seem like exclusionary nonsense. Now, instead of being able to tell you what it means, we have to fight with you. How long were we going to keep doing that, wave after wave of new people with the same incorrect preconceptions?

The incorrect preconceptions have won. The identity politics have won. I cede the field.

So here's my little blog's new policy on roleplaying theory:

I'm interested in collaborative thematic play. I'm interested in any and every way to get it; I'm interested in doing game design that makes it easy.

I'm willing to talk about non-collaborative and/or non-thematic play, of course, but ticking in the back of my head will always be "how can I use this to get what I want...?"

I'm absolutely committed to a clear and solid description of what happens when we roleplay. I'm absolutely committed to my every prescription being supported by it.

But we have a perfectly good venue for discussion of GNS: the Forge. From now on, anybody who wants to talk about GNS as such with me should contact me there.

1. On 2005-03-05, Ben Lehman said:

Identity politics have been with the theory since the beginning, when it was GDS, and have haunted about it since, its shadow.

To keep them out is a constant struggle.

I'm happy to not talk about it here.  But let's not give up yet, please?


2. On 2005-03-05, LordSmerf said:

Interestingly enough I was talking about this over on my LiveJournal today.

My basic stance: GNS is still as useful as it ever was.  We just need to clearly understand what it can and can't do, which I think has been lost somewhere along the way...



3. On 2005-03-05, Chris said:

Hi Vincent-

There is no 100% way of communicating anything for 100% understanding all the time.  Understanding is a meeting point between two places.  You can communicate as best as you might, and people have to meet you half way.

Sometimes folks have no personal experience to draw upon, and that's why they can't reach you.  Consider the inability of many folks to grasp Narrativism or Simulationism depending on their own play experiences.  More words never make it as clear as actual play experience and relating it to that.

Then add in the fact that society in general has trained more people to argue on the principle of establishing dominance rather than information exchange and discussion.  Even if that isn't how you personally run things, it becomes easy to be defensive surrounded by that kind of intercourse.  Identity politics are part of our societal conditioning, whether we like it or not.

Failed?  Only if our goal was to make everyone understand(if not agree).  In which case we can look to several other figures who were much more persuasive in history and dealing with much more serious issues and failed to get their point across to everyone(say, Gandhi).  Thankfully, we're only talking about games, and we're a lot less charismatic and persuasive.  It doesn't matter what you're talking about, or how clear headed you make it, someone, somewhere will misunderstand due to accident, selective reading, or simple laziness and the desire to support or oppose it without understanding.  Words are clusmy tools, but they're all we got.

But- as far as your blog, it's your blog, and this might be the best decision.  Especially since all you added was a chart talking about what has been at the Forge for years now, and having to start completely over from scratch.  Instead of progress and building on what was there, it was back to square zero.  If you want to deal with that kind of stuff again, I might suggest that you just throw up some links and go, "Review THIS" :)


4. On 2005-03-05, Ben Lehman said:

Policy question—

Does this apply to the whole Big Model or just the G, N and S divisions in Creative Agenda?



5. On 2005-03-05, Vincent said:

Ben: Just the words themselves: Gamism, Narrativism and Simulationism.

The Big Model, being as far as I can tell the only accurate description of roleplaying available, is very much within policy.


6. On 2005-03-06, Per said:

I understand and acknowledge your line in the sand, Vincent. I don't see it as failure, though, it's probably very sound to discuss what happens during roleplaying without using those...well, particular words. Thematic player-empowered play is exactly what I want anyway, and I want to know how it works, how I approach it, how I make sure that I get it, and how I explain it to other people (roleplayers or not) why I want it and how it works.
I have discussed with a lot of roleplayers who haven't even given these things a moment of thought. At least people responding to your blog feel passionate about RPG theory - and practice ;)


7. On 2005-03-07, Luke said:

I'm right to feel guilty, aren't I? Not that I ever fucking called my self a Simulationist (it's like calling myself a Borg or something). Still, I feel guilty. I've hurt this blog.

S'okay, GNS is shite anyway...

Let's talk about Character Death! Task and Conflict resolution!


8. On 2005-03-07, Vincent said:

Luke: "Still, I feel guilty. I've hurt this blog."


What "hurt" this blog was a Forge thread yesterday morning. There it is, onto its second page, somebody saying "where do I fit in GNS?" and it's all people answering who don't know what they're talking about. Not a single correct answer in the two pages.

I'm looking at it and I'm going, how much work would it take for me to step in and correct all the misconceptions? Answer: a little bit of work. And I'm going, but how likely is it that the thread would then become another unholy shitstorm? Answer: very, very likely.

And that's the vibe I get: everybody who knows the answer is looking at the thread going, is the shitstorm worth it? Which of us has to be GNS cop this time? And the wrong replies are mounting.

People feel ownership of the words even though they don't understand them, and thus resist understanding.

I don't think that's you, Luke. You, I'm like "here's the definition" and you're like "that's a shite definition," but you're not like "that's not the definition," as though I might not know the fucking definition of fucking Simulationism.

I'm done fighting with them (and now I'm done venting about them too). I want to establish a venue where I don't have to keep fighting. That means leaving the contested words behind.

Next up: tidying the open house's loose ends as best I can, talking a bit about my design process, making the posts that I owe you and Neel, and making a post about the process of creating theme. Probably not in that order.


9. On 2005-03-07, Brennan said:

I would like to continue talking design theory here, Vincent. I know that last thread turned into a shitstorm, but I really have a hard time with GNS. I am very happy to talk about all the other crap, though, and avoiding GNS discussions won't bother me a bit.


10. On 2005-03-07, Luke said:

I don't think that's you, Luke. You, I'm like "here's the definition" and you're like "that's a shite definition,"

very true. and very cool. I look forward to many fruitful hours of lurking.



11. On 2005-03-07, xenopulse said:

Honestly, this is why I think efforts like Nate's (Theory Without Jargon articles) are so important. Yeah, I probably have many misunderstandings on the theory. It might be my fault, though I usually am a theory type of person (with an M.A. in political philosophy and international relations theory). But several times, I've encountered things like "Well yeah, that's what that article says, but since then things have changed, and here are the five threads about that." So I am constantly playing catch-up.

Example: You said in the Shitstorm Thread (TM) that the decision-by-decision take on GNS is incorrect. But in the GNS and Other Matters of RP Theory article, Ron wrote in chapter 2:

"Much torment has arisen from people perceiving GNS as a labelling device. 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.'"

Now, I can see, after the Shitstorm Thread, that your position is that we need to look at groups of decisions and not individual ones. But that's not the vibe I got from this article. In fact, the article seems to warn that we shouldn't lump them together because that leads to labeling.

So we can stop talking about things like this, or someone can sacrifice their valuable time and effort to bring the theory up to speed in one place, in an understandable fashion. I'd do it, if I understood it properly. But the place for that is the Forge, anyway, and you should use your blog to do your thing.

In any case, thanks for sharing your wisdom.

- Christian


12. On 2005-03-07, Vincent said:

Christian: "So we can stop talking about things like this, or someone can sacrifice their valuable time and effort to bring the theory up to speed in one place, in an understandable fashion."

Because doing that never turns into a shitstorm where you have to defend it. Because when I say things clearly, nobody ever argues with me or replies with entrenched nonsense.

But yeah, I promise, a year from now, two years from now, the theory will be better elucidated and more widely understood than it is now. I'm making a step toward that: I'm going to stop provoking fights by using a word people kind of like to mean "crap roleplaying." I think that'll work out better.

(Hey, and if you'd like to ask me about the apparent contradiction between my position and Ron's wrt individual decisions and GNS, PM me at the Forge.)


13. On 2005-03-07, xenopulse said:

Because doing that never turns into a shitstorm where you have to defend it. Because when I say things clearly, nobody ever argues with me or replies with entrenched nonsense.

Do I smell some sarcasm here? :)

I understand that there are a lot of preconceived notions out there, and those always prove to be a problem to theories in any field. I guess one would have to start at the very beginning. And that would require a whole book, given the complexity and amount of aspects of the theory by now. So yeah, that won't happen.

Anyway. I'll send you that PM soon. Thanks for being willing to discuss all this stuff, still.


14. On 2005-03-15, Lee Short said:

We fought SO HARD to get the identity politics out of GNS.


Vincent also wrote:
I think that there's a powerful distinction we could discuss, if we could go ahead and say that the only roleplaying worth discussing is thematic + collaborative.

Clinton wrote:
You can't say Simulationism doesn't exist, because there's a whole hell of a lot of it out there. What I personally think you can say, which is negative, but, you know, whatever, is that Simulationism is the act of generic role-playing with the tools we've mainly been given until recently.


The *HUGE* disconnect here explains why the effort failed.

If you want to keep identity politics out of it, you've got to actually respect the difference rule, in the spirit of your conversation as well as in the letter.


15. On 2005-03-15, Vincent said:

Hey Lee, you're right. I've been considering it and you're right.

Screw it. Identity politics it is. Better to piss people off than waste time discussing pointless play.

Cool. That's a new ... what ... style book to go with the new policy. And no more hypocritical moaning from me about how gamers take it personally when I call their gaming an empty suck.

Maybe not the outcome you wanted - although probably you don't care one way or the other - but I take your point!


16. On 2005-03-15, Lee Short said:

Actually, I'm pretty OK with the outcome.

For one thing, I think you're much *less* likely to get mired in identity politics if you are up front about where you are coming from.  Sure, there will always be a few people who just can't let you have your opinion: it's always September on the web.


RSS feed: new comments to this thread