Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The GNS Model and Mind's Eye Society: Balancing the Scales

 Lately, I've come across a lot of discussions about how people play in the Mind's Eye Society (formerly The Camarilla, God rest it's Zombie Bones). The most common discussion I've noticed is the rise in people playing a Game that is meant to be won, using the system of the LARP, the straight up numbers of the characters sheet to justify their actions.

However, there is a not so silent minority that believes that LARPing is about a story being told and a world to explore. These players coming from a literary and artistic background, the actors and theater fans who enjoy being a part of an ongoing narrative based in a fictional world.

As I said, there is a very distinct opposition between Playing a Game and Playing a Character in the White Wolf based LARPs. Those that tend to Play the Game site the system of rules in regards to card pulls, actions, and modifiers as justification of using them. Those that like to Play the Role use the system to justify their actions, but not dictate them. Fine line walking? Indeed. Which one is right?

Well, According to the GNS Theory, the answer is  both. The GNS Theory, written by Ron Edwards, states that there are three separate types of goals: Gamism, Narrativism and Simulationism. I'm going to explain these parts and then go into depth about how they relate to us as a club.

Gamism: As described by 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.

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.

Narrativism: 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). 
 Let me clarify that these aren't entirely personal philosophies. They're way of seeing and attaining goals in a game system. We each have a profound way of handling things, and each have an innate tendency towards one or two of the three.

I'm clearly a Narrativism-Simulationist. I want a world that is fleshed out or that can be fleshed out while exploring questions and seeing how people interact with each other. I'm not really interested in Winning a Game, I want a playground to play in and interactions. I want my characters, who while fictional do live in the world they are placed in, grow.

This is reflected in my Storytelling style, I hope. My focus is on telling a good story, and allowing my players to grow and explore as much as they possibly want. It's been pretty light lately, but I leave the door open. Mechanics, the game part of the game, is tertiary, and is often used more for scaffolding than anything. Do people play this way? Absolutely. Do people play in a way that heavily favors mechanics? Absolutely, the job for me is to balance it without killing my own creativity.

So, going back to the problems in viewing this in club terms. Which side is right in regards to the dispute? The Gamists or the Role Players? The problem, looking at it through GNS, makes it a matter of the system for which the World of Darkness games are played. The World of Darkness games, and by extension the LARP clubs that play, is practically built on the concept of the GNS. The gaming system, with it's focus on Attribute+Skill, appeals to Gamist goals. "I have this and this, therefore I can solve this."  The background of the games however, from the sourcebook to the expansion books, each one focuses on allowing for a rich potential for a simulationist game. Considering the Addendums for the Club, we're all deciding how and what we base our simulations on, trying to keep and maintain the internal logic and balance of the world we're in. But finally, we have the players themselves, who after years of playing and getting to know one another, see these characters as living beings living side by side. They each have their own foibles, theirs dramas, and their own stories. More often then not, these are all things that are played out in smaller groups, but those scenarios can reach out and affect entire regions, maybe even the entire club.

So the question doesn't become "Which one is right?" but "How do we balance this out." Unfortunately, the first thing that will get supported is the mechanics aspects of the game, the information is Quantitative, easily measurable and controllable. That gives Gamists a lot to work with right there. However, that sets a covert gaming culture that rewards people who favor the mechanics over those wanting to tell a story or explore the source material, both things which are Qualitatively measured, making it more difficult to predict. Storytellers have to decide how their games function. I know firsthand how difficult it is, it's a pain in the ass, especially in the presence of people using Gamist goal solutions. But the World of Darkness is based around all three methods, and that requires balancing the act.

There are of course games that don't follow the Theory, or downplay a method. In playing Dystopia Rising, I know that the mechanics are severely lessened from systems like World of Darkness (considering that the creators was a WoD developer originally, this isn't surprising). By limiting the mechanics to Health Points, Mind Points and what equates to Skill Licenses, they are focusing more intensely on Simulationist methods, using the world of the game and the setting around them, and the Narrativist methods of letting people run around an area and dealing with situations on their own terms and, most importantly, creating their own. A lot of the RP I saw, and the sheer amount of emotions visible made the game intense and incredibly personal. Through in the fact that you are literally IN the game space, and this is a pretty decent Simulationist Game.

Another example is De Profundis. De Profundis is a letter-based LARP that emulates Lovecraftian horror. The entire game is based on players letters to one another. In this, we have a game that espouses an almost purely Narrativist gameplay. Each letter enhances the world, and each letter is written by a player. The whole scenario becomes one gestalt storyteller and enforcing of the world/game they are engaging in.

Gamist games are the most abundant. Go ahead, turn on your game console. Crack out your chess set, or board game. If the idea is to win, to solve the puzzle, then it is evoking the Gamist in people. It's one of the reasons I don't like using them in a LARP. If I wanted to just grind out xp for killing monsters, I'd hit up World of Warcraft (ugh) or Skyrim (yay!).

The reason I brings these games up now is to drive home to point I want to make in regards to the Mind's Eye Society as a whole and to each separate person in it, Storyteller or Otherwise. Know what kind of game you want to make, promote it, and enforce it. If you want a game where Gamist solutions are going to work, then be upfront and honest about it so everyone can adjust. If you want a game where Narrative or Simulationist actions are more preferred, please speak up. Balancing is a pain in the tits and while you can try, you're human and therefore may not be able to make it. But at least make the effort and be honest about it. Because this game is about the people in it interacting with the world, with mechanics built to help enforce those interactions. If we didn't want to be here, we'd be home alone playing something else.

Like World of Warcraft. Ugh.



  1. Hey Craig, Ryan Hart here.

    This is a good summation. Would you mind if I linked to it? I'm starting a blog, and looking to integrate.