Saturday, February 13, 2010

Thoughts on the Manifesto of the Turku School

I'm pretty sure today isn't the first time I'd seen the Manifesto of the Turku School. But it's the first time I'd paid enough attention to it to notice this:
Another way of dividing the different ways of gaming is to group them into gamist, dramatist, simulationist and eläytyjist styles. The gamist players ("munchkins") try to somehow win the game by making their character as powerful as possible - in a way turning the role-playing into strategy-gaming. The dramatist people have no true grasp for the meaning of interaction, as they think the purpose of the game is for the game masters to tell a story using the players as actors - but with no audience to tell the story to! The simulationists try to create a working society or even a world which is simulated through role-playing. The eläytyjist set the goal to becoming the characters, to experiencing everything through the character.

While the division between the mediums of LARP and table-top games does not provide any difference in quality, the second division certainly does - not all of the above styles are as well thought-out as others. As is obvious to most role-players, the dramatist and the gamist styles are inferior to the simulationist and eläytyjist styles.
Setting aside the pretentiousness for a moment, what they've done here is rather fascinating: divided roleplaying styles into four groups based on whether they focus on creating a story, overcoming (largely mechanical) obstacles, creating a world, or immersing yourself in a character, and then grouped the story and achievement styles in one category and the simulation and immersion styles in another.

While their presentation of the idea is somewhat problematic, my thoughts have been running along similar lines for a while now. The summer that 4e D&D came out, there was a lot of talk about how it had incorporated "Forge philosophy" into its design, and while I don't know enough about Forge-style games to comment substantively, what I do know has suggested that there are some definite points of contact between those two sets: they're both using rules to engineer very specific experiences. And in that quality at least they both stand very much apart from the kind of gaming I've been doing a lot of lately, where we'll ditch the rules entirely for months at a time, and don't figure out exactly what want out of a campaign until six months into it.


  1. Part of "Forge philosophy" - or rather, one of the original goals of the Forge think tank - was to help game designers create games with mechanics that actually addressed specific goals of play UP FRONT, instead of waiting for these things to develop off-the-cuff, over time.

    Your last few months of experimentation is the kind of thing some Forge designers were trying to shortcut...something you, yourself, seem to be doing with your "social game" in development. That is, "why not simply design a game that does what I want it to do and address the kind of issues I want to address in-game?"

    Fun, huh?

  2. The problem with that is that, in my experience, people tend not to have very clear ideas about what it is they want from a game at the outset.

    If we had tried to define what the campaign was going to be from the outset, and stuck to that definition, the solo D&TP game particularly would not be what it is now. At all. I didn't know that I wanted the kind of gaming that we're doing now a year ago, wouldn't have been interested if Trollsmyth had tried to tell me rather than demonstrate, would have been weirded out if he'd demonstrated before I'd known him and the game for a while, and couldn't have jumped into it directly even if I had known it was something I wanted because it depends on in-game elements that took that long to build.

  3. Pre-defining your experience by the game designer is really no different than railroading by a DM. Both are (or should) anathema for old school style gamers.

    I do NOT mean, however, that a game designer shouldn't or can't give his game some sort of theme or flavor - I think those are different things.

    (I normally don't worry about these sorts of things - must be the scotch talking!)

  4. It's just another spin on the Luminiferous aether style theory of how people play games. :)

  5. I imagine the goal for Natalie's Social Neo-classical RPG is less to shortcut the experimentation phase as to facilitate it. It's less about declaring what the game should be as pointing it towards a different set of potential choices. Which could still be ignored, if I understand her design.

    Or I could be putting words into her mouth. ;)

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  7. Whoa--

    "Real people don't aim to win at the "game of life"; in fact, there is no such game! Real people aim to enjoy their life or further their personal goals, but they also have all sorts of doubts and weaknesses, which come into way of their wanting to do what they want to do: "I was going to run for the parliament, because I want to make the world a better place, but I ran into some old friends and went out for a beer, instead." That is why the gamist style does not work."


    "Things can't be fun unless they simulate neurosis!"

    I have rarely seen a gaming document that managed to be so philosophically contemptible--entirely outside a gaming context--in my entire life.

    Not that it's your fault, but this Turku Manifesto is seriously disturbed.

  8. Welleran: I'm not sure about whether it's "old school" or not, but there are definite weaknesses to pre-building an experience into a system. That kind of design is very good in some situations, but doesn't cover every eventuality, or every playstyle.

    Stuart: You referring to the Forge type "every gamer falls into one of X category's" formulation of the concept? Because I don't think that's crucial to the idea I've pulled out of the paper, and, in fact, their appropriate of terms like Gamist goes a long way to muddy their position.

    trollsmyth: That sounds about right. ;)

    Though the main thing that divides what I'm doing from Forge design isn't so much the effect it has on play as the intent. The main goal I have with the system is giving the DM tools that make his life easier. Which means that it's going to support certain styles of play over others, yeah. But it doesn't generate a whole lot just on its own.

    Zak S: They have some really interesting ideas, only one of which I've pulled out to discuss here. Unfortunately, a lot of those ideas are communicated in a more or less incoherent way. This may be partly for presentation purposes, but based on that text at least they clearly don't understand the kinds of play behaviors that they've labelled as "gamist." Their whole use of that term is a bit dodgy; they've conflated "people who like to push counters around" and "people who really groove on achieving goals in-game." Which, yeah, the counter people are almost all in the second category, but the second category also includes, say, folks whose main gaming goal is to figure out clever ways to deal with all those weird traps the DM has stuck in his philosophically correct old school dungeon.

    Anyway. If you really want to see disturbed, check out what they have to say about the ideal player: The Player's Vow of Chastity

    Lots of interesting ideas, but if I hadn't been playing in a similar way myself lately I'd write them off as complete nuts just because of the way they get the ideas across.

  9. @ Odd: there are a couple different issues here.

    "...people tend not to have very clear ideas about what it is they want from a game at the outset..."

    I've found this depends on the experience of the gamer(s) involved. Those who have played in several different games, or different campaigns, may have very specific ideas about they want out of a game, but may not have the vocab to communicate these ideas or even formulate a way to try.

    Regarding, Trollsmyth enticing you into something weird and strange... ; )

    This is an issue of trust that (I think) only builds through 1) continued RP experience with the same folks, or 2) a certain level of maturity coupled with acknowledgement/understanding of what kind of game a person is looking for.

    Deep and immersive role-playing isn't usually "jumped into;" at least not successfully in my experience. In the past, I've gone from a game like yours and Troll's to a completely new group and had backlash and "weirdness" expressed at me for trying to set up anything "outside the box."

    Manifestos and Forge articles may not provide the tools for learning or teaching, but they can form a basis for the start of a conversation. The games do the rest.

  10. Some locals here attempt to explain my gaming style, my published work, and the entire D&D thing in pseudo-academic (or maybe real academic, it's all the same mumbo jumbo to me) cultural terms.

    Finland can be odd.

  11. Actually, the Vow of Chastity doesn't disturb me--they're just decribing their own preferred play style. It's when they dis other people's play styles based on baseless over-arching sociopsychological assumptions that I get freaked out.

  12. If people want to say "Hey, this is how I like to play" then I think that's pretty cool and might be interesting and helpful to others. It's when they say "This is the (implied good) way we play, and here are the other (implied inferior or nonsensical) ways some other people play" that it turns into a turkey.

    I think Zak S and I are on the same page with this stuff.

    @Jim: It's definitely pseudo-academic. There's no real research, and they're approaching the humanities / social sciences as if it were chemistry. There is real academic stuff on this topic… but these taxonomy systems aren't it. :)

  13. If people want to say "Hey, this is how I like to play" then I think that's pretty cool and might be interesting and helpful to others. It's when they say "This is the (implied good) way we play, and here are the other (implied inferior or nonsensical) ways some other people play" that it turns into a turkey.

    Well, yeah. Honestly, when people start talking about how superior their playstyle is I tend to go "yes, that's lovely," and filter that bit out. It's hard to get anywhere if I just dismiss the entirety of their ideas out of hand; most of the people who have thought really seriously about RPGs have strong opinions about what and why they play. Which is good, but it does tend to lead them down odd paths sometimes.

  14. "The problem with that is that, in my experience, people tend not to have very clear ideas about what it is they want from a game at the outset."

    But once the campaign is underway, player collaboration doesn't have to end. Imagine a FATE game where players change and evolve their characters' Aspects one at a time between each session. After 6 months, the GM should be framing the action around very different things than the outset. And that's only if the player character lineup itself doesn't change.

  15. I think a mistake a lot of people make is to take these observations—like the Gamist, Simulationist, Narrative three-fold model—and forget that they describe parts of a whole. If you set out to create a purely Gamist, purely Simulationist, or purely Narrativist game; I think you’re very likely to end up with something that is—at most—fun once. It isn’t “or”; it’s “and”.