Jettisoned Baggage

Vincent Baker, author of Dogs in the Vineyard and In a Wicked Age and so on, is doing something interesting on his blog. He’s taking a term of RPG theory, a much-contested one with a ton of emotional baggage. . .and jettisoning it*. He’s saying, “everyone means something different by this term, so if you use it, be prepared to define it; as for me, I’m going to be calling the thing I’m talking about something else.”

(*PLEASE, don’t bother reading the article if you don’t have a dog in the fight. It’ll just be confusing and probably a drag.For awesome Vincent Baker talkings, read this page instead!)

The thing he’s talking about, it’s part of a set of proposed goals of roleplaying from the theory discussions at the Forge. The name he’s shedding is Simulationism, with its counterparts Gamism and Narrativism. In their place he’s using their more descriptive taglines: The Right to Dream, Step On Up, and Story Now.

I love it. I’ve also noticed Jesse Burneko doing this on Play Passionately, saying Story Now all over the place with nary a whiff of “Narrativism.” I intend to do the same. This is a great idea for two reasons:

First, it’s much, much clearer. This clears up all the confusion impressions people get like, “I like story, so I must be narrativist!” or “Realism is important to me, am I playing Simulationist?” The taglines make it utterly clear that we’re talking about specific, nuanced concepts, not just any ol’ thing that comes to people’s minds when they think of “Narrative” or “Game.”

Second, and this is the important bit–the term switch helps defuse the inflammatory history of the concepts. Identifying something as an “ism” is incredibly loaded and polarizing. It quickly becomes a matter of identity politics and battle lines. Story Now sounds to me like a cool and engaging thing to try. “Narrativism” sounds like a damned religion. You can easily get on board for a round of Step on Up play without having to invest your identity in being a “Gamist.” That means we can talk about these things in a healthy and nonthreatening context. That excites me a whole lot.

So I’m going to be trying Story Now on for size, seeing if I can use it as a fruitful line of conversation and exploration. I’m hoping Story by the Throat can benefit from bringing its core element into the foreground and taking a good hard look at it. Come join me!



5 Responses to “Jettisoned Baggage”

  1. May 10, 2009 at 10:52 am

    In my gaming I choose a subgoal of that, called “Story Now by The Throat”.

  2. 2 Zac in CA
    May 26, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    At the very least, this could reduce the number of times that someone’s eyes glaze over when you try to talk to them about RPG design. That, and, dear God, maybe it’ll keep each of those CA’s from feeling so Grail-ish in their elusiveness.
    If you say “My game supports Story Now! play,” that means something pretty specific, but you can break it down into its components very easily, and contrast it with the other CA phrases: ‘I like story, but what’s this “now” business?’ says the prospective player. Much easier to explain when the term itself is less loaded, I agree.
    All you need, I think, to “achieve” the CA is a few suggested play techniques and the CA’s “label phrase”, and you’re good to go!

  3. 3 storybythethroat
    June 2, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Yeah, Zac–that pretty well sums up my thinking on this. I mean, not everyone is going to know what, say, “Story Now” means, but the term’s specificity invites discussion and explanation, rather than encouraging the assumption that we all mean the same thing by “Narrative.”

  4. 4 Zac in CA
    June 11, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    Also, way to use the phrase “dog in the fight”. That’s a condition that could probably stop the more polite flame-warriors from getting started.

  5. 5 Josh W
    July 1, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Lol at the “ism” thing, it’s like it’s some scary voodo taboo or something. I fear no words!!

    But I do love clear communication, so creating words based on a common community where you can go to people and ask what they mean, and talk it out, yeah that’s pretty awesome.

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