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.

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