Saturday, May 7, 2011

sim: what it is, what it isn't

Any ideas about what sort of difference there could be in Conflict Rez as it applies to Story Now vs. Right to Dream?

I'm not sure this even applies! I think the "site" at which Creative Agenda occurs is far broader than Conflict Rez. "Resolution" here is shorthand for player-driven resolution, but that's no reflection on CA.
You know what? I don't buy that it's possible to have Sim that's all about faithfully portraying a genre. I mean, I have never encountered Ron's fabled Sim game where the GM protects the genre from outside influence.
Maybe that is a literal statement - maybe I haven't encountered such a thing, but it's out there anyway. It sounds like the mechanics are protecting the genre in Pendragon, for example (but the GM isn't doing it) - being a Romantic knight is about grappling with the tug between virtue and ignobleness (if that's a word...), and so in Pendragon your virtue-themed stats mean you're pinging back and forth between them the whole time. You aren't allowed to simply be a knight, and explore what that means for yourself.

Of course, when I say "allowed", others might say "abandoned"! The things that make a knight into the "time bomb" Ron Edwards talked about somewhere - Story Now requires characters that have been "wound up" and have plot waiting to unfold, but it also, equally, requires procedures and mechanics that allow players to drive play forward with their choices.
But honestly, I don't know if I've come across his alleged "pastiche-play". I think V:tM is about being a vampire and stuff, but the mechanics don't empower the player to engage in the struggle of it all. When you lose Humanity points, it's totally a GM-centered thing. In Sorcerer, you agree to burn them. The difference is the procedural text, I think - - there really needs to be an understanding (on someone's part, if not everyone's) that the point of play is to hand the players morally and emotionally complex situations and give them the wheel. The first bit (complex situations) is procedural play, what the GM/GM-role is for. The second bit (the wheel) is the mechanics, what the player-role is for. The mechanics help them drive around in the emotional/moral complexity; whatever other dangers or strife are thrown in there too, they exist to draw out the emoraltional (ha) stuff.
(forgive me while I go on about the general idea of CAs for a bit...)
Gamist play is very similar, with a crucial difference - the point of play is to hand the players dangerous or unsafe situations, and empower them to decide what to do about them. There can be licentious, disturbing, or harrying material in there for flavor, but it's not the point.
It would seem that Sim play can have any kind of content it pleases, but most Sim-ish gamers I've met aren't interested in taking the wheel. They like being thrown into morally harrying situations, maybe, but they don't seem interested in getting there on their own. This isn't an attempt to impugn their play style. But what I've seen seems to be "Hey, GM! Put me in some interesting situations, wouldja?" (as opposed to "Let me do it!") And that mentality seems to dovetail with some concern for how things are supposed to operate, in terms of game physics, genre expectations, etc.

I was thinking about those scenes in movies where the hero has to choose between two people who are about to die. In movies where the hero chooses, the character would end up in that situation as a result of their own actions. In movies where the hero ends up escaping the choice, the character ends up in the situation because of others' actions.
Take Batman Forever, if you will - in that scene where Nicole Kidman and Robin are both about to fall into respective death-pits, Batman refuses the choice and saves them both. If the point of the film were about the pain of deciding between love and friendship, he would have made an actual choice; failing to do so would have made the film fall flat, unless a Cunning Twist is employed.
Like, if a film is about a guy who has a male best friend and a girlfriend, and he and his best friend end up falling in love, that might seem like not choosing at all, but really he has determined that Love Is Friendship.
On the other hand, if the movie was about the difficulty (not pain) of choosing between love and friendship, then we're watching Saving Silverman - the choice is resolved by a) Silverman finding a new, less objectionable love interest and b) one of his closest (and most jealous) friends finding that what was missing from his own life was (gay) love. The movie is more about what a pain in the ass it is to juggle close friendships and a romantic life, rather than about the pain of choosing and then living with that choice.
It seems to me that Nar play is about choices and living with them, whereas Sim play is more like "slice of life" fiction - the point is to portray, or explore, a "correct" vision of a particular lifestyle, world, or whatever.

I think it's probably impossible to use truly thematic Conflict Resolution in a Sim game. If play focuses on exploring dramatic themes and gives the players the power to make meaningful decisions about them, that's Nar play, straight up. If either element goes away - thematic content (i.e. it's emotional, it's ethical, it's about choices) or strong player input, it changes.
You take away the thematic *oomph*, but not the input, and you have Gamist play. It can still pluck your heart strings, but the mechanics and procedures aren't going to help you do it. If you play a heist game and it's all about the cool plan and what could go wrong, it's Gamist.
You take away the input, but not the oomph, and you have Sim play that's focused on emotionally engaging the players. Horror games are definitely molded from this clay pretty often - in V:tM, in my opinion, the Storyteller is supposed to make the players confront how ugly and creepy vampires are, but he's showing it to them - they poke at it and turn it over a bit, and look it up and down, but ultimately the Storyteller brings it mechanically/procedurally, by enforcing Humanity checks.

If you take away both, you might end up with upbeat, Illusionist adventure games, or, basically, various relatively low-emotional-risk iterations of Sim. I think. Certainly, no-oomph/no-input is the kind of Sim I grew up on.

Okay, so I guess Conflict Resolution does sound like foreign territory, from a Sim perspective. I dunno, though - CR has been painted as the difference between merely performing a task and making the effect of that performance stick. The sticky widget seems to be how we define making it stick - do we do the thing from a mechanical perspective so that we can beat a dude, or do we do the thing so we can handle a relationship?

That is, are we engaging the mechanics to gain meaningful authority over the outcome of a conflict? If yes, then it is Conflict Resolution. If we are engaging the mechanics but don't gain meaningful authority over it (that is, if the authority stays where it would otherwise lie), then it is Task Resolution.

On one level, CR is where tasks are nested - you must achieve your goals through tasks in order to ground your play in the fiction, lest you get the equivalent of:

Checkmate: Whenever you get into a fight, roll +sharp. On a hit, win the fight.

TR, on the other hand, is the opposite of "tap A to win the game" - - you can only do the component tasks, and you never get the narrative weight to say "Yep, this solved it." You are asked to handle individual bits of the fiction, but they never become the whole until someone (likely the GM) touches them - they remain the "sum of the parts" only.
Gamist play would be totally ruined by TR - if your actions don't meaningfully settle the matter (there are rubrics for determining this in a successfully Gamist design), then you've been hosed by the GM.
In Story Now play, TR totally can't happen - if your actions don't matter, how the heck are you going to address Premise?

Going back to Story Now vs. RtD: I played AW last night, and it's weird how the procedures do a lot of the heavy lifting in that they push the players into making choices about stuff they care about. They don't push them so much as help them along - the MC's various moves basically help to raise the stakes or take a loose thread and tug on it. Ultimately it's the players who are pushing things forward; the MC just helps them maintain their forward velocity.

I don't know how much more I can say about RtD play; I feel like I can only define it by what is lacking from Story Now play, rather than "positively" defining it as something unto itself.


  1. I didn't explain "choice" enough - Nar AND Gamism are about choice.
    I was watching House, and it occurred to me that, in AW, the hard choice you make is *whether or not to roll the dice*. The choice is whether to take the gamble.
    In Dogs, the hard choice is to keep going when the dice don't go your way. The choice is whether to live with the gamble.
    In Polaris, the hard choice is whether to compromise with your worst foe. The gamble (the experience roll) is the very last resort.
    I need more examples, but the way in which the dice affect our choices is really interesting.

  2. That's all Fortune-based resolution, though. In Drama resolution, just like Vincent says, it falls to the procedures to push play.
    So, in a Story Now game with Drama, all you got is procedures. Well, no - you can have Drama-based mechanics, right?
    Polaris sure does. It has a little core of Fortune that sits there staring at you, all threatening-like. But it still comes down to the gamble, in some fashion.
    Only 100% pure Drama resolution could use something other than the dice to make one's decisions have bite.