Friday, March 04, 2005

GNS Discussion Explodes On Lumpley Blog

Here and here.

I ain't gonna touch it there cause I don't think I've put in the time at the Forge cluing myself in. Lots of interesting bits, such as --

On 3-4-05, Clinton R. Nixon wrote:
Neel: Hey Clinton, take a look at Mark Rosenfelder's Language Construction Kit. Do you think that kind of activity -- sitting down and making up new languages for fun -- is without value? ... If so, then we can't talk.

Oh, but we can. This is getting all sorts of splintered, and so you might want to e-mail me at We've got a lot to hash out, and a lot of it might want to be cooked before public consumption.

But, yes, I see it without value, or to be clear, without value to anyone besides one's self. Creating a language to help foster communication between two peoples: that's a redeeming activity.

To reiterate again: I see no activity engaged in solely for the fun of persons to be a redeeming activity. And, unfortunately, that's where I see a lot of Sim play: it's there only for entertainment.

And to reiterate another point: I don't think that "not redeeming" = "bad". It just means there's no point, and that is a major difference to note between activities.

Oh man. I am so torn about whether I agree with Clinton here. There are all kinds of questions about intrinsic and extrinsically motivated action, play vs work, all kinds of things wrapped up there. Having hung out with the conlangers for a while and done a little myself, I think it's really hard to say whether they are doing it "for themselves" or "to communicate." They do it for themselves but when conlangers get together they are fascinated by each other's creations, like any other artist. I kind of know what Clinton is getting at but I'm very leery of accepting the distinction he's propounding here. "Only for entertainment" vs "redeeming because it addresses a theme" -- the thing is, things which entertain often entertain more, not less, when they also have thematic depth. Shakespeare is ultimately more entertaining than Die Hard with a Vengeance, because it's got the depth that it has. And mere entertainment often isn't so "mere." I dunno. I'm not sure I believe in "mere entertainment" that entertains because there's nothing deep to it. The book Killing Monsters has convinced me that what we think is shallow may be deep to some of the people who love it most. (Incidentally that was also an important observation of C.S. Lewis's in his Experiment In Criticism -- that people who love "bad" literature often love it because they are able, for some reason, to get out of it the things that people get out of good literature, despite the bad literature's apparent badness -- in other words, it really is good literature to them.)

Another thing that really interested me is how Vincent started by trying to construct the tripartite GNS out of binary (yes/no) distinctions. It ended pretty inconclusively, some people happy with it, some not. It pointed up that binary distinctions are in a sense natural, easy to find, and uncontroversial, while tripartite distinctions are weird, uncommon, and controversial. It's easy to say "there is x and not-x. Let's call the not-x 'y'" -- but it's harder to do that in any way where you cleanly end up with three chunks. Maybe GNS has been plagued from the beginning by its tripartite nature. (Or maybe GNS theory could use some help from the ever-trinary Charles Sanders Pierce...)

I almost feel like what would like to see Vincent do is just continue on without the GNS terms, and go forward with what he's doing -- talking about "thematic, collaborative" play or the like.

Another interesting bit was from Emily Care:

Yeah, if only we had stuck with the good old, process oriented def. of sim, rather trying to stick it into the CA [creative agenda] biz. It suffered a sea change that made it much less useful (to me at least) as a concept.
At that point I really felt the weight of history attached to Forgie terminology and all the arguments and changes it's been through, and the gazillion people who've contributed to it and argued over it and reinterpreted it. Could it be time to move on from the venerable trilogy of consonants, G., N., S., and find some other useful way to articulate some of the positive lessons and insights that have been gained from the theory? It seems that sometimes that's what Vincent's blog is about, but then you get Vincent:
Hey friends, this is really important.

I know GNS. I know it approximately as well as any other living person does.

If you're, let's say, Ron Edwards, Mike Holmes, Ralph Mazza, Paul Czege, one of that crew - I'll debate with you what the definitions really are.

Otherwise, I'm going to ask you to take my word for it.

Narrativism, Simulationism, Gamism - they operate at a time scale you can generally measure in hours. They are not present in moment-to-moment decisions.

I'll explain why this is so to anyone who asks, as I have done, but I'm not going to seriously engage with anyone who argues that it must be otherwise.

And it's not that Vincent is being a dick or anything, it's true what he's saying here -- and he's trying to forestall an unproductive discussion, but in the moment he said that, I felt like we were back on the Forge, and I don't mean that in a good way.

The fact that he's able to count on one hand the number of people including himself whom he feels are really able to bandy this terminology around authoritatively, well... I dunno. It's become something more than just useful communication at that point. Vincent's made clear in previous posts that he's capable of taking the insights that were forged at the forge and presenting them in ways that are clear to people -- but this thread is aptly called an "ordeal." It's a difficult thread. Interesting, because pretty much everyone involved is sharp as a tack and thoughtful, but really difficult. And its difficulty is Forge terminology difficulty. Forge history difficulty. It's what needs to be transcended somehow, moved past.

Anyway, that's my take on the whole darn thing, which seemed too tangential and meta to confuse the actual thread with.


nate said...

Interesting stuff. Thanks for pointing it out.

I agree with your thoughts but you're a little too gentle. Mine are more along the lines of:

Clinton (in this instance): full of crap.

Lumpley: If only he and five other people can accurately use these terms, not only are they useless, but they probably ceased being useful at some indeterminate point in the past, and this is just the death knell.

Harlequin said...

The question of the navigation away from the Forge terminology really is a two-edged sword. Even if I'm wrong about some of my conceptions of GNS, I find what I've got to be incredibly useful in my design work. And any term you try to move past is going to have that problem; there's an incredible depth of insight there, and as a community it'll be a tricky balance to strike between avoiding dogma and abandoning an inestimably valuable body of work.

However, Vincent's blog is still doing some neat stuff along those lines. Take a look at the thread in which we established pretty solidly that Task Resolution and Conflict Resolution are misnomers, a coincidence of perspective. While nothing better (clearer) has yet been advanced to repair the subtlety here, it's pretty clear that some careful tearing-down of terms is happening even now.

- Eric F.

Ed said...

Thanks, Harlequin. That was a pretty cool thread. Just read it for the first time. It was also just the sort of thing that I thought was really valuable on Lumpley's blog. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

I'm not up in arms against the Forge terminology, not at all. But when I read this thread, I had the reaction I described in my post: that sometimes it hurts more than it helps, and it is good to have a talk about what is really going on (like you did in that thread) and see if everyone can come to some kind of consensus about everyone's really talking about.

I never would have thought of questioning "Conflict vs Task Resolution;" but I understand the whole thing better for that thread and for the questioning that was done there.

Clinton R. Nixon said...


First - have we met? If not, good to meet you.

Me getting quoted? Weird.

Anyway, my argument comes from pretty personal views. I don't expect everyone to buy it. I'm not certain it's "full of crap," as Nate says, but it is full of loaded words, which makes it kind of like dynamite thrown into a discussion.

My own experiences, combined with some recent high-octane Dogs in the Vineyard play, have made me start looking at my play from a serious moralistic angle. And I just start wondering why I participate in an activity if it's just for myself.

You hit a good point when you said entertainment with a point is more entertaining (summarized.) Of course it is. That's one of the big reasons I keep hitting this issue. I had a private discussion where someone asked me "who's being 'redeemed'?" When we play with purpose, we are. We are becoming better people through play, and that's the most exciting idea I've had recently.

Ed said...

Clinton -- I don't think we've ever met in real life. I met Vincent and Ron and Mike Holmes and some other folk at GenCon '03, I've posted very very sporadically on the Forge since then, did two of the Trollbabe Comic arcs, and other bits of art here and there. I'm glad to meet you too; I'm a fan of your work (and am frustrated by the current unavailability of TSOY in print!). I'll catch you at this year's GenCon if you'll be there.

Thanks for the clarification -- it sounded like the kind of statement that couldn't really be understood for what it was meant without a lot of context, and you've provided some of the context here. I can follow you there, I just would want to qualify it with the note that it's really really hard to know who's getting what out of an activity from the outside, without asking them. And sometimes activities which strike someone on the outside as being done frivolously are actually quite meaningful to the people engaging in them, and do indeed "make them better people." So I'd accept the direction you're going with that (and I'd agree that that is an exciting thought and something worth exploring) with the big ol' qualification that it's impossible to be *sure* that something which would be "unredeeming" to oneself is unredeeming to the people who love it.

I think people really seldom love things which are unredeeming (using the term in your sense, I hope) to them -- but they often love things which might not be redeeming to other people.

With that big qualification, I'm with you.