Wednesday, December 07, 2005

GNS, Vampires, and Academics' Role

I've been reading a fair amount of RPG theory over the last week. Between doing research for and writing my annotated bibliography and readings on the side, I've taken my first real dive into Forge RPG theory. I re-read the GNS Manifesto, so to speak, learned about the Big Model (Ie GNS version 2.0, maybe 3.0. It's not my model, I'm not its keeper).

GNS, for those as don't know, is Ron Edwards' (game designer and co-founder/operator of The Forge) breakdown of differing 'creative agendas' in role-playing. G is for Gamism, a creative agenda which privilidges the Game in Role-Playing Game, where players work for more l33t powarz for their characters, to 'beat' the scenario, and maybe even the other players. Power-Gamers/Twinks would be examples of people with 'Gamist' creative agendas. N is for Narrativism, where telling a story is privilidged over all else. Players collaborate more closely with one another and the GM to make the story being told as entertaining to the people involved as possible. S is for Simulationism, where genre emulation and immersion are privilidged, where players 'explore' aspects of the setting or their characters or the system of the game, etc.

It's far from a perfect model, and I have issues with some of the declarations he makes in the various GNS/Big Model essays (Especially The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast), but the ideas of GNS have helped make sense of why it is that Vampire tends to just not work for me. Vampire as it is often played, especially LARP, is too Gamist in its orientation, in the competition for political/physical/mystical powar!!!1, and the version of Simulationism that is strongest in the game (Exploration of Setting and Character) are not things I'm terribly interested in. I as a player don't really want to explore the inner life of a parasitic goth wastrel, nor the (IMHO) slightly pretentious angsty world of the kindred.

After reading some of the Forge stuff and thinking back on Robin Law's “The Hidden Art: Slouching towards a Critical Framework for RPGs,” I've solidly changed my perspective on RPG studies in academia. It's not that gaming needs Academics to come in and clarify all the terms so that the Real Theory and studies can begin, more like it's my (and other RPG-studying academics') responsibility to read and understand the wealth of emic analysis which has already been happening for decades and then, afterward, bring academic critical tools to the table and open up some things to illuminate or take another perspective on things, and to study what the emic theorizing says about gamer's valuation and relationship to gaming.

Which means that I've got a crapload of reading to go back and do, just from the Forge alone, and on top of that, all the gaming theory blogs that are worth reading and whatever essays out of INTER*ACTION/Interactive Fantasy that I can dig up.

Fortunately, I love gaming. A lot. And I also love theory. Not THEORY in the Big-Headed elitist kind of way, but theory from the level of functionality, structure, aesthetics, and that kind of stuff. The RPG equivalent of looking under the hood and/or shop talk among actors talking about the craft of performance.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Welcome to the Monkey House

In light of the reorganization of the Forge RPG theory forums and as an expression of my dedication to the field, I've decided to carve out a chunk of cyberspace to post my rantings and ruminations about RPGs, their theory, their academic study, and whatever randomnicity manages to sneak its way in.

My Background: I am a first-year graduate student at the University of Oregon, getting my Master's in Folklore. I have been role-playing for twelve years (since fourth grade, folks), and worked four and a half years at my FLGS in Bloomington, Indiana. Over those years, role-playing has been a formative and important part of my life. I decided to make the study of RPGs and the role-playing subculture(s) a focus of my academic orientation, in part as a way to spread awareness of the hobby and because I realized I could get away with writing about things I loved, and thought it would be a whole lot more fun to me than studying the folksongs of a nearly extinct East African ethnic group.

Chops: I've already presented a paper about role-playing games at an academic conference, that being "Can I Get Change For That Plot Twist?: Dramatic Currency for Communal Narrative Shaping in Role-Playing Games." Gotta love those long and formulaic academic paper titles, it's true. It was all about what I dubbed 'dramatic currency' mechanics, those along the lines of 7th Sea's Drama Dice, Buffy/Angel's Drama Points, Serenity's Plot Points, and so on, talking about how the existence and use of those mechanics re-worked the location and distribution of power and authority in dictating the course of the narrative in role-playing games. In a longer version of the paper (hopefully to be published in a book on RPG theory), I'm going to be talking about the relationship of 'dramatic currency' to games that are labeled 'cinematic' and what that says about the aesthetics of role-playing with those games.

The Journey of a Thousand Blogs Begins With a Single Keystroke.