There are lots of theories and taxonomies out there for what motivates players in roleplaying games. One of the most widely known theories out there is called GNS theory. For those unfamiliar with it, GNS theory breaks down player agendas into three categories: Gamism, Narrativism and Simulationism.
The agenda of the Gamist is to achieve one’s objectives. Gamist play typically has clear external goals that the player achieves in the face of adversity. This may involve achieving goals through interaction with game the game’s mechanics (“yay, I have the correct build to stabinate all the monsters!”) or through pure roleplay (“yay, I convinced all the monster’s to stabinate each other!”).
The agenda of the Narrativist is drama. Narrativist player typically involved using player agency to put characters in dramatic situations and experiencing the results. This may involve interaction with the game’s mechanics (“I spend karma point to compel the monster to elope with me, denouncing all monsterkind”) or pure roleplay (“Please, monster, come run off and elope with me!”).
The agenda of the Simulationist is exploration. Simulationist play typically strives for a consistent world, with internally consistent character motivations, and the interaction with that world. This may involve interaction with the game’s mechanics (“I have the ‘deathly afraid of monsters’ flaw, so let me roll for fear rather than elope”) or pure roleplay (“oh no, a monster!”).
Naturally, most people’s motives are likely to be some mix of these three agendas, rather than some strawman that adheres to one agenda exclusively. My question for this week is: If you were to rank how important these agendas are to you personally when roleplaying, which would you say is most important, second most important and third most important.
Any you have any insights or comments, feel free to share those as well.
I am going to give two breakdowns, one for LARPing and one for Tabletop, because I get different things out of each and thus enjoy each for different reasons.
Tabletop, what is likely most relevant to your interests.
Narrativism (1): All about the story yo. All about creating the most compelling stories. I enjoy building stories collaboratively with others and creating the most compelling narrative I can with the other people at the table. This is my first priority regardless because Stories are so important to me.
Gamist (2): I enjoy feeling effective. I enjoy executing my character's mechanical purpose to the party, whatever that is. I enjoy creating efficient and enjoyable builds and find theorycrafting enjoyable.
Simulationist (3): In Tabletop I don't generally enjoy simulationism beyond the baseline. Consistant world is necessary for me, but I'm not the sort of person who finds, for example, planning out their character's meals and buys things in bulk for cheaper gold and then constructs meals for them. That's not enjoyable for me and the more I can just kind of wave a hand at it, the better. The specifics of the nitty gritty simulation aren't a thing I enjoy. I'd rather get on to the Dramatic Moments.
In LARP those last two switch (Narrativist at heart). In a Game where I am physically doing most of the things I am doing, I much more enjoy the simulationist aspect and enjoy exploring through it. I remain just as Gamist, but my enjoyment of simulation skyrockets.
I'd have to say my first is Simulationist. I love exploring a world. In MMORPGs, I always try to find my ways to places nobody knows about. I often get killed in the attempt, like when I managed to climb over the mountains out of the Troll starting area in WoW and got eaten by an alligator because I was level 2 and it was level 15. But I loved that I found a way through the seemingly-impassable mountains, which were clearly there to funnel me through the starting stuff. And in UO Renaissance, I was probably the person on our shard who knew the most of the T2A map, because I'd wander around it for days on end.
Along with that, I love campaigns where you build something. My favorite part in any D&D PC game is building your stronghold, solving all the problems that come up along the way. My favorite campaign with the Tab group was when we founded Melanoc. I just love creating something, making it a part of the world.
My second would be Gamist. I love achieving objectives. When I play a PC RPG, I do every quest I can find. Finding the problem and solving it in creative ways; I love that. There are strong elements of this that vibe with the building stuff: I love solving the problems that crop up along the way, as I said.
Scenario: I want to build a tower. But that will require a bunch of iron and the closest working mine is 100 miles away. I could arrange for traders to start bringing the supplies. Or I could clear out the mines on my land that were abandoned when the bad guys came through, and are now a den of monsters, then hire a bunch of miners–and at least one foreman–to mine the ore, and a blacksmith to work it into the tools and material we need. Oh, and more people means more mouths to feed, so I need to open up new areas for farming….
Third is Narrativist. I love the stories. But out of the 3, the story is the part that gives me the least satisfaction.
Narrativist first and foremost. The story is what matters most to me. I am generally willing to put my character into awkward situations if it will move the story in an interesting place.
Gamist and Simulationist. I have a harder time deciding between these two and I think it varies depending on mood and situation. I don't think it is consistently one or the other.
I think I actually break down pretty close to even on this one; they are all important to me. If push comes to shove and I have to choose, though:
Simulationist (1): As much as Kat hates shopping for a 21-day journey and planning out meals, I love that stuff. How are we sleeping? I decided to forego a bedroll because of encumbrance limits, so my character is literally just rolling up in his cloak on the softest ground he can find every night. That means if we're in a town with a real inn, he's more inclined to spring for a bed. Yeah okay mechanically my migraines mean that I have a penalty on skills and can't cast spells, but logically, they should also make my character really miserable and that should show through in the RP. Where exactly am I holding all of my weapons? Is it practical? Do I need another bag? This sort of stuff is endlessly fun for me to think about. By the same token, a consistent world is really important to me. I don't really care where on the spectra of silly to serious, cinematic to realistic, etc., it falls as long as everything is internally consistent along those lines. It's totally plausible to kill 20 tigers with one arrow when you're an archer out of Vedic myth, and mythic storytelling isn't about tracking encumbrance and I would in fact find it dissonant and weird to do so in such a setting.
Narrativist (2): I do love me a good story. Arcs and dramatic moments are really satisfying for me, and are always the high points of a game. Doing something kind of dumb for a better story is something I've learned to embrace, and collaborative storytelling with others at the table is a fun and exciting time. Writing journal entries and session recaps is a great way to codify this experience for myself, which is probably why I do it so much.
Gamist (3): I really enjoy mucking with interesting systems, making effective characters, and achieving goals efficiently. These are all things that I enjoy and I will do them…whenever they don't conflict with what seems realistic for my character and setting, or what would make the most interesting story. In those instances, such concerns always take a backseat, which is why I rank Gamist #3 for me. I don't care if Relemir never uses Cartography because Hurell is so much better at it; he thinks he's a great cartographer, dangit, so I'm spending some points on it.
If I had to rank things for me overall, I would probably go:
1. Narrativist - I really like a good story.
2. Simulationist - I like to explore.
3. Gamist - I will admit I like cool powers and fiddly systems.
Years ago, I felt I was equal Narrativist/Simulationist, but then I realized I value stories first. For example on the matter of Character Death, I don't mind dying in a way that fits and adds to the narrative (Jacob and Jeb as examples), but I really hate dying to a random encounter in a random fight that means nothing to the overall story.
I do think this is all very situational. When I play a game like UO, I tend to focus on more Gamist aspects, while a Freeform larp might push me entirely Narrativist. My inner Gamist loved making items and powers for TBC, but when I actually larp, I mostly ignore my index cards.
Systems also matter in this equation. Games with more tactical elements can make me more Gamist, since I don't like feeling mechanically irrelevant. Sandboxes are an excuse to explore. If there are some really interesting story elements, I'm going to jump on those.
I think our most Narrativist-focused game was probably Deadlands, though we've had a lot of well-plotted games. I can enjoy a Narrativist-focused game. As for the others, probably not as much. Our most Gamist games were probably Dragonlance 4e; the system dictated the focus on this one. Freemarket was pretty Simulationist, but it felt like a simulation of a weird drug trip.
This is an interesting set of answers for me, as how I would have guessed some of your guys' GNS agendas differs from your own views. Similarly, how I would rate our recent campaigns on the GNS spectrum also differs.
For example, I would have put the most recent Deadlands campaign strongly in the gamist camp, specifically because it was so driven by an externally-motivated plot.
I have a harder time pegging our campaigns as narrativist, particularly because in my mind narratvism doesn't lend itself as well to long-form campaigns, or at least doesn't with this group. But if I had to name the “most narrativist” campaigns I would probably name either the Werewolf campaign oh so long ago or the latest Trystell campaign. The last Infinite Worlds game would be a close runner up, which had an awful lot of narrativist agenda within a basic more-or-less gamist structure. I would have also have put Freemarket down as a game that's really written for narrativist play, but which flopped in part because I didn't set a good stage for playing it that way.
I think I would call this latest Hackmaster game more simulationist, as well as the second Deadlands game or the Babylon 5 campaign.
I agree with most of your above assertions, with the exception of Deadlands.
I agree that most of our plot was externally motivated, but what I loved so much about about it was the deep narrativst arc all of our characters seemed to have. We had external plots, but all of our motivations felt genuine and each character, no matter how short lived, seemed to have their own clear and clean arc. It was also extremely Gamist, but I found the narrativism that we, as players, brought to the table to be incredibly compelling.
Not to put Thorin on the spot (and he should feel free to ignore this message), but I for one would be fascinated to know what someone who has been GMing for me for five years thinks of my playstyle and GNS profile, publicly or privately.