The Big Model, RIP

edited July 2015 in Directed Promotion
Hey, so lots of threads about the Forge's Big Model just now, and my name keeps coming up in them.

The Big Model was nifty when it was current. It was fun and useful to me, and I owe it my games from Dogs in the Vineyard to Apocalypse World, but rpg design has left it behind.

Among many others, but most particularly, I don't think that the idea of Creative Agendas stands up after all, let alone G, N, and S as its representatives.

We used to think that RPGs were one game. In, like, the 90s or whenever. We would say things like "what is the object of a RPG?" as though all RPGs would have the same one.

GNS was a real step forward: "RPGs aren't one game, they're THREE!"

But, of course, RPGs aren't three games either. Every RPG, like every other kind of game, is its own. You can taxonomize them if you want, but then you're constructing artificial categories and cramming games into them, not learning or finding out something true about the games themselves.

Just so you know!

-Vincent
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Comments

  • Thanks, Vincent. I'm in agreement about Creative Agenda and what the object of an RPG should be.

    On a historical note, though,
    We used to think that RPGs were one game. In, like, the 90s or whenever. We would say things like "what is the object of a RPG?" as though all RPGs would have the same one.

    GNS was a real step forward: "RPGs aren't one game, they're THREE!"
    Who is this "we" you speak of? :-)

    Speaking for myself, in the 90s, I was discussing with others about how to categorize the different sorts of things that RPGs do - at first discussing a few different two-way splits before coming to a three-way split - hence the Threefold Model (1996).
  • A notional we.

    I was Sarah Kahn's housemate in, mm, 94 maybe? I followed rgfa avidly through the mid 90s.
  • Thank you for this, jhkim & lumpley. Hopefully I'll think a little clearer about games from now on.
  • Phew. Someone just came right out and said it.
  • Wise words. Labeling games for the sake of labels obscures your view of the thing you're supposed to be understanding. Same as other things in the world.
  • Don't worry, in another 10 years or so someone will bring it back and call it "the Old School Theory Renaissance". We might even get someone to yell "ROLE play, not ROLL play" again.
  • "There is only one recipe: to care a great deal for the cookery."
    - Henry James

  • The horseshoe is also in the ground. The same goes for GDNS Official, Canonical.
    I can't use it anymore.
  • 5178 games, according to rpggeek right now :)

    Still, we can always find common points in the games we learn about, compare and contrast and all that good stuff. That's a lot of what this forum is all about.
  • +1, tentatively...

    But people do need a vocabulary to talk about games with, so they can tell others what they want. The natural tendency is to regress to a very crude and inadequate set of concepts, and to get stuck in hopeless arguments (e.g. about what a "narrative game" is, or what is and isn't "metagaming").

    Perhaps the only practical solution, though, would be for everybody to seriously play a wide range of games, so that they can talk about things as "this new game Y being like X" even though they have few words or models to describe X with, and Y is sufficiently novel to defy categorisation.

    Should I ever rule the world, I will perhaps mandate this diverse play.
  • Yeah but there are so many parameters to opt in and opt out of. For example I do notwish to partake unwittingly in Lumpley's "The Vengeful Demon of the Ring" game and I do not want to play Dread. I can't make a blanket statement about narr or sim to save myself.
  • Oh you know me. I'm still all rpg theory, all the time. Having theories and the vocabulary to talk about games is only and truly good. No regressing! Forward into better theories.

    -Vincent
  • Well, it is illustrative that while I agree with Vincent's sentiment about taking games on their own terms, I still find the Big Model a most useful analytical tool. As Rob says, vocabulary - and the underlying mental analytic vocabulary enables - is what you get from the incessant modeling of complex behaviours. For me rpg theory, Big Model and GNS and whatever, is comparable to e.g. military science, which despite the lofty name, is in the exact same place with rpg theory in attempting to model, analyze and predict complex human phenomena with infinite variation. One could condemn both for coming in the way of natural intuitive understanding, but it's probably better to take them both as what they are - tools of mental construction, to achieve better ways to [kill people] / [play games].
  • I'm on board with the new school of objects, strategy, style, dice & above all clouds!!! Take me to the skies folks!
  • I'm not condemning the Big Model for coming in the way of natural intuitive understanding, for goodness sake. I'm just calling it obsolete. GNS is dated analysis.

    -Vincent
  • edited July 2015
    2097: Right on!

    -Vincent
  • I feel like I have been weighed down by a stone for so long and now the world is new
  • edited July 2015
    I feel like I have been weighed down by a stone for so long and now the world is new
    How come?

    (Btw, is it just me who thought of these GNS discussions were like people talking about [their interpretation of their] religion, and now Jesus stepped in and told it how it was? "Hey, stoning your wife because they been cheating on you was OK back then but it's a different time now.")
  • Vincent is Paul the apostle in the Forgite theory pantheon, to be exact on the simile.

    I know it's petty of me, but I have to admit that I would think less of the discussions of late if it's in fact Vincent whose opinions people have been relating, rather than their own. I hope nobody feels like they have to backpedal too hard on what they think, given new input from the master :D
  • GNS provides some useful terms for discussion and thought, certainly.
    It's just neither categorical nor comprehensive.

  • edited July 2015
    Rickard, Eero: Oh for butt sake.


  • So, by leaving behind the three creative agendas, has the dichotomy of coherent vs incoherent also been superseded? I'm not very conversant on GNS theory, but the concept of agendas and coherency seemed to be very closely related.
  • Rickard: if Jesus would say to put GNS in the ground, we'd be like ”Mmmmaybe".
    But now it's John H Kim, Vincent Baker and above all myself Sandra that says it. So it's finally time. Put pine tree twigs on its grave.
  • Dreamer: Sure.

    I still like the words as non-jargon, with no special meaning. I'll call a game's design incoherent, for instance, if its parts and subsystems don't hang together, don't cohere. One rule undercuts another, or competes with another, or renders another impractical.

    This is kind of what "incoherent" sometimes meant in the Big Model.

    Oh and creative differences can still mess up your game, but I don't think there's a special class of creative differences that we need to promote.

    -Vincent
  • I don't really understand why it's anybody else's beeswax what kind of rpg theory models I choose to use. It's not like I run around making an ass of myself at RPGnet or wherever about my theoretical tools and their obvious superiority next to somebody else's ill-conceived notions.

    Regarding GNS and creative agenda coherence, the latter is not dependent on the former, but Vincent states (up in the OP) that he considers both GNS and the concept of Creative Agenda (and therefore the Big Model, basically, except probably some of the more basic terminological bits) to be outdated, so I guess that's pretty clear. Nothing prevents somebody not-Vincent from repudiating GNS theory while holding onto the notion of coherence, and the notion of Creative Agenda, of course. (Repudiating coherence while holding onto CA makes less sense to me - coherence is entailed by CA.)
  • Just because it makes sense and it's somewhat useful, it doesn't mean it's an universally applicable scientific principle . Take the pseudo-scientific Theory of Multiple Intelligences for example; I'm ashamed to admit that in my country it's still the bread and butter for school teachers and child psychologists. Probably because it's easier to sell it to the parents and now they can charge for therapy for each intelligence by separated.

    I'm also ashamed to admit that I still speak GNS to explain myself and understand others, but I believe I've never used it consciously to design games.
  • edited July 2015
    Eh, I still think there's lots of value in the Big Model. And I still like Creative Agenda, and even GNS, and I think people can rightfully debate about how to slice up the pie chart of Actual Play but it's still worthwhile to slice it up at all.

    Basically, not agreeing with you, Vincent, that it's dead. Agreeing that it's dated.
  • Eero, this is RPGs, we should be looting the corpses.

  • More generally, you shouldn't just use one theory. Play is complicated enough you want more than one conceptual tool in the toolbox. Having multiple theories to work from is extremely valuable. If anything that was the main naivete of the Big Model, that it tried to be a grand universal theory.
  • Has Ron stated any similar feelings about the theory? Just curious to know if he's moved on from it as an analytical tool or has evolved it.
  • More generally, you shouldn't just use one theory. Play is complicated enough you want more than one conceptual tool in the toolbox. Having multiple theories to work from is extremely valuable. If anything that was the main naivete of the Big Model, that it tried to be a grand universal theory.
    Well said! I think this is the main point. All theory does is allow us to organize concepts in our mind and then communicate them to each other.

    Anyone who starts to place the theory *itself* on a pedestal has got the cart before the horse.

    Having said all that, I'm with Eero and Adam on still finding the Big Model very useful. (Although, as I stated in the other threads, I find specific creative agendas - and instances of play - more useful than the three GNS categories, with potential crossover and grey areas.)

  • Rickard, Eero: Oh for butt sake.
    Hey, I just thought it was funny. :)
  • Vincent,

    I have a feeling that this might be precisely what you wanted to avoid by posting this, but I still have to ask:

    In a few words, which parts of the Model do you find outdated and why?

    Having once been a strong proponent and developer of the theory, I'm curious what has changed your mind or what kinds of other theories have replaced less useful ones?

    (Sometimes I have the suspicion that people want to "deny" a certain theory not because it's wrong, but just because it's *easier*, politically, to say, "I'm not into that [controversial topic], I prefer to have more flexible ideas." Kind of like how some people say, "I'm not a feminist. But I support equality for women and want to see things continue to improve." Discarding a label in order to make more friends.)

    (Note that I'm not necessarily accusing you of that, Vincent; it's just something I see a lot, and arguably a very natural human thing to do.)
  • It's not like I run around making an ass of myself at RPGnet or wherever about my theoretical tools and their obvious superiority next to somebody else's ill-conceived notions.
    I have done that a lot! Hence the enormous sense of relief now that I can't do that anymore.
    I'm very very tempted to run over to the big purple and proclaim the death of GNS actually.
  • Fly, you beautiful soul! Bring the gospel to the benighted masses toiling under the False Teachings of Outdated Idols!
  • For what it's worth, I have no problem with people like Paul, Adam, and Eero continuing to argue in favor of GNS.

    I disagree with them, but that's what theory discussions are for. I'd agree with Paul that it's useful to discuss about why it is dead, and what parts are outdated.
  • edited July 2015
    Paul: If I were going to do that, I should have done it back when the Big Model was current, instead of waiting until it's obsolete. The Big Model's been totally static for the past 5 years or more, you'll notice, and rpg design hasn't been.

    But in a few words, sure.

    You know how you can assign a given rule to Drama, Fortune or Karma, if you want, but it tells you absolutely nothing about how the rule works, or why, and it creates illusory clusters of rules instead of fostering real understanding? And the same thing with FitM vs FatE? And the same thing with Effectiveness, Resource, and Positioning? They're convenient stand-ins for what's actually going on, when what's actually going on defies such simplistic taxonomies?

    Same thing with GNS.

    I was developing the idea of technical agenda as the technical component of creative agenda, and the further I developed it, the more patent it became to me that G, N and S were arbitrary, not reflective of real divisions in actual design or actual play. That while you can, if you want, assign a given instance of gameplay to G, N or S more or less consistently, you do so by asserting false similarities and ignoring some true similarities between other instances of gameplay. GNS is a convenient stand-in for what's actually going on.

    If any of you Big Model theorists want to check my work, I'll be happy to lay it out for you, but it's long and it's technical, and I'll ask you to follow along carefully. Hit me up elsewhere.

    -Vincent
  • edited July 2015
    That makes a lot of sense to me, Vincent. (Assuming that I'm not reading into your words my own ideas, perhaps.)

    My own first post on this subject (the GNS thread that prompted all this) was more or less along the lines of: "hey, here are all these theoretical categories, which help us discuss things in the abstract. But! Don't mistake them for the REAL things, which are far more colourful and distinct, and don't fall into neat
    categories."

    My own thinking sometimes goes to the Big Model because it's the best model I have available for certain types of analysis.

    That doesn't mean I think it's gospel truth or anything like that. I look forward to discarding it as better modes of thought come forward, as they are bound to do.
  • @lumpley - What prompted this post, all of a sudden? Seems very random.

    - Alex
  • edited July 2015
    Paul: I think it's no longer the case that they help us discuss things in the abstract. They never helped much, they just took over every conversation they touched.

    And I should be super clear: it's not that I think that there are hybrid creative agendas, coexisting creative agendas, overlaps, gray areas. It's not that I think that G, N and S aren't adequate. I think that the idea of creative agendas altogether isn't adequate. Gameplay doesn't have a creative agenda. Games aren't designed to support a creative agenda. The idea of creative agendas was useful to me for a while, but it's not anymore.

    Alex: I don't know! Suddenly there are half a dozen posts a day around here with my name in them. "Well Vincent says, Vincent considers, according to Vincent..."

    -Vincent
  • @lumpley - I think rather than mitigating that tendency, you've inflamed it. Being a person who finds theory discussions interesting but not much worth putting faith in, I find the whole thing a bit amusing.

    - Alex
  • edited July 2015
    Vincent: I suppose that's certainly true. (Just look at this recent glut of threads!)

    All the same, I have - and continue to have - useful and fruitful discussions with these terms now and then. (Though I have to grant that I have these mostly offline, and it may help a LOT that, unlike you, I'm not recognizable as one of the people behind the theory. No one posts about what I think or what I said, so I can speak more freely from a "non-partisan" position, and people online don't particularly feel the need to take sides based on anything I said.)
  • edited July 2015
    Alex: Whatever. I figured that since I was going to be participating anyway, I might as well participate on purpose.

    -Vincent
  • Do you want to discuss this in length, Vincent, or is it a boring topic for you to hash out? (I ask because often enough I don't feel like explaining my theoretizing to random people in the Internet myself.)

    If you do, what's your alternative conceptualization for what Creative Agenda stands for, if you think that the concept in itself is misleading? You say that games are not designed for Creative Agenda, which I agree has historically often been the case. Are you also implying that because games have not been created with Creative Agenda in mind, purposeful, agenda-full play is also impossible or so rare as to make no difference?

    I assume you do not hold an entirely nihilistic view on the matter of purposeful play, so surely you're calling it something if not Creative Agenda...
  • edited July 2015
    Eero: I don't mind, but it's long and technical, and Story Games is not and never has been, right? Hit me up somewhere else.

    -Vincent
  • Eero: I don't mind, but it's long and technical, and Story Games is not and never has been, right? Hit me up somewhere else.
    Maybe your Barf Forth: Roleplaying Theory? I would like to follow up on this.

  • Sure, some other time then.
  • On second thought, I will say here that on the contrary, purposeful design and play is very, very possible. These days, it's pretty widespread, and only getting moreso.

    The idea of creative agendas is a stab at identifying how purposeful play happens and what it means, but from a point of view of scarcity, of longing, of failure. Now that we have abundant, reliable purposeful play, we don't have to long for it or obsessively diagnose what went wrong. We can actually dig into it and learn how it works instead.

    -Vincent
  • Ricardo: Sure. Start a thread whenever you like.

    -Vincent
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