Sunday, February 14, 2010

Creative Agendas - What's the Point?

And here I had been planning a post about/with some much needed love for Star Frontiers. Ah, well...duty calls and all that jazz.

I know I throw a lot of off-the-cuff shit into these blog posts of mine, and part of THAT is that it's a blog and I write whatever falls out of my brain, and part is that the blog is for my own reading and enjoyment, and part is because I like to pique the curiosity of folks by being semi-cryptic at time (that's as close to "mischievous" as I get). But sometimes there are things I really should take the time to explain, "just-in-case."

Maybe "should" is the wrong word...this is just a blog after all!

But it might serve my readers better if I would bother to explain some of the ideas and concepts I so blithely and haphazardly strew throughout these pages. It might be helpful for people to grok what I'm talking about when I start laying down some crazy-ass design theory.

Today, the subject is CREATIVE AGENDAS, something I've mentioned more than once before in passing and have never bothered to explain. I think it might be helpful to some folks if I did.

"Creative agendas" are a concept from the Forge forums (what I like to call the "Forge think-tank"), and an important component in RPG design theory. Here's the gist:

- People come to the RPG table with a reason or intention of play.
- That AGENDA both informs their in-play decisions AND determines whether or not they are achieving maximum enjoyment (i.e., if their agenda ain't being met, they may not be having as swell a time as they could).
- RPGs, as designed, can better facilitate some creative agendas

The original model of gaming theory named and defined three identifiable creative agendas:

The Gamist: a player interested in gamesmanship, winning & losing, wanting to overcome challenge both in-game and at-the-table (achieving varying degrees of prestige with one's fellow participants).
The Simulationist: concerned mainly with immersion and exploration of the shared imaginary world
The Narratavist: concerned primarily with meaningful story emerging from play

These three creative agendas (or CAs) are NOT intended to pigeon-hole folks into one particular category or not. A person may have a particular bias towards one or another type of game play but that doesn't mean they're on it all the time. The CA is simply the agenda one brings to the game table. Here are a couple-few reasons why they are helpful:

As a point of discussion they provide a vocabulary for conversation to avoid conflict at the game table. People bringing different CAs to a game (especially between GM & Players or between Established Group & New Guy) can lead to real disconnects and dissatisfaction within RPG play.

As a point of reference CAs provide a tool for understanding one's own preferences in game play, providing the ideas one needs to better express "what I'm looking for in an RPG."

As a point of theory they provide considerations for game I want my game to facilitate one type of CA over another? Have I provided rule mechanics that are actually going to facilitate the CA for which the game is intended? Have I f'd the whole thing by throwing in extraneous stuff that leads one to assume or drift towards a different style of play?

And that's pretty much it. Even if a person has a heavy bias towards one particular creative agenda, it doesn't mean they're locked into it like some M-B personality test result. RPG gamers bring varying degrees of these CAs to the table and may switch back and forth between games (they may do so IN GAME as well, but this can sometimes be problematic...part of the reason CAs are useful as a point of discussion). There's more to our personalities than a single CA, otherwise we'd probably find purer ways to express ourselves than through table-top gaming.

A pure gamist might seek sport or competition without the need for "story" or "simulation."
A pure simulationist might seek acting or reenactment without the need for "game play" or "story."
A pure narratavist might simply read or write stories without the need for "game play" or "simulation."

And believing that people role-play because they like the collaboration/working with others is an illusion...ALL the "pure" creative agendas can be done in collaboration with others without the need for using a role-playing game; RPGs aren't the only social exercise available to folks.

So anyway, that's the point of Creative Agendas. They're a useful, descriptive tool, but aren't meant to categorize more than game play and intention. Hope that's helpful (it's still a bit early in the morning here...I'm heading back to bed now).


  1. They're arbitrary categories and don't represent the way people actually play tabletop RPGs, except in some fringe cases. Using this theory to design or play games is akin to painting with oven mitts on. You might be successful, but it's not because of this theory. :)

  2. I'm with Stuart. A lot of words for not much (if any) benefit. Reminds me of religious dogma. I mean, have any of the forge folks actually done experiments to see if their statements of "fact" have any bearing in the real world? If not, it's all just smoke. Interesting smoke (in the same way that some modules are good for ideas), but nothing to live by.

  3. People get all bent out of shape by GNS theory, for some reason. It's like it harms them personally or something.

    Ok, so its not a complete encapsulation of reality, but that's why its a model. I think it certainly provides a baseline for discussion, and does carry some explanatory power.

    Look, Freudian psychology isn't completely representative of the way the brain actually works, but it certainly provides a framework for talking about observed phenomena.

  4. I always looked at the model as a way to figure out why some players don't enjoy some campaigns, or some DMs/GMs, etc. I agree with the notion that it is a model and not gospel, and I do think it has uses. As much as people sometimes balk at further dividing a niche hobby, the fact is that some gamers just don't enjoy some types of games, and I think GNS offers some insight as to why. I would say it is less of a matter of "agenda" and more a matter of personal taste.

  5. Jeff Rients model is far superior.


    People get bent out of shape I believe because

    1) Some (too many) discuss and use GNS as a 100% true and accurate proven law of science. Often to support some god awfulness.

    2) many consider using something that isn't completely representative "as a framework for talking about observed phenomena" equivalent to a circle jerk. Roll some dice and play already!

    Of course some people like talking and arguing over doing. That's fine. I'm just trying to explain why there will always be anti-GNS sentiment and trying to defend GNS with that group is pointless flame warery.

    In other words use it, don't evangelize it.

  6. @Norman Harman:

    I think as long as there's "anti-GNS bias" there are going to be people pointing out that that bias is based more, I think, on perceptions about the attitudes/intentions of those espousing the theory rather than what it actually says.

    I'll concede, though, sometimes these perceptions are accurate, but I don't think that's a good thing either.

    For the record, I'm certainly no "GNS evangelist" (not that you were accusing me of being one)--but I guess this might be a relative thing.

  7. Really interesting. To my surprise I sit between a Simulationist and a Narratavist and care less about the laws of the game. In art or literature Gamist would be a formalist, someone concerned with the form. For me the art of world building is the most fascinating but without the restrictions of gameplay that creativity might be hampered.