Roleplaying: The Simulation

For a few weeks now I have been in the process of doing short clips (no, really!) on my YouTube channel which are intended to serve as an introduction to a style of play which I feel was more common in the past than it is now. Although badly or misleadingly named (and I apologize for bowing to convenience in using it myself), games which lean toward simulation can be very powerful experiences and I think the approach is worth sharing. Each clip (10-minute or shorter run times, I swear!) touches on one aspect of how to envision, pitch, and run a game in this style. The series is not yet complete, and it needs further support here on Casting Shadows, but it is well-enough underway – with enough supporting material here on the blog already – for me to share.

What is meant by simulationist?

If you are interested in a more complete explanation of the simulation aspect of play styles, then I recommend that you explore the following links:

There are of course more, but these are long and exhaustive and old enough for their core concepts to have been circulated in one form or another through a broad swath of gamers. It should be said up-front that I found these terms long after I had come to terms with what my preferred play style was, and thankfully was oblivious to all the keyboard wars which surged around this and other theories of gaming. It is important to note also that much of the gaming theory community has moved on from this simple three mode idea of gaming.

I use the term simulation recognizing its initial intent in relation to gaming and its actual meaning and that is about as far as my own partisanship goes. If my simulation is not your simulation, let’s agree to disagree on what it is, and whenever I use the word in my posts, feel free to replace it with a different word in your own mind (Rosebud…?). Once the next paragraph is complete, I do not want to waste any more of your time or my time defining simulation. (I get the feeling I will repeat that sentiment when Immersion raises its head.)

Ok… what do you mean by simulationist?

For me, it is simple – particularly in comparison to the articles on the Forge. Simulationism is the adoption of a play style which allows the story to develop from the plausible interaction of its design elements as though the game world were real. The story develops on its own in play. The player and non-player characters are portrayed as though their drives and the results of their actions have consequences, as though there were a tomorrow and a day after tomorrow. Decisions are made from a plausible rooting in an internally consistent character, in an internally consistent world, and the GM-controlled aspects spawned by those decisions are determined according to those rules, not by the constraints, traditions, or impulses of fiction. For more on this idea, please read Let the beats fall where they may.

What does immersion have to do with this?

Again, simply put, I feel that simulation lends itself very well to the natural development of an immersive play style, and makes it easy for those who prefer immersion in character, or immersion  in the scene to achieve it consistently over the long haul. It is also hard to talk about the one without referencing the other, so why fight it?

Immersion is as prone to varied meanings as simulation and a very good article concerning it can be found on Mxyzplk’s Geek Related blog: On Immersion. I have written a number on the idea myself, but we can look at those later. 

Before you ask, my usage of the term immersion will relate to the concepts mentioned above of immersion in character, treating the character being played as though it were a real person facing real consequence for actions, and to the idea of choosing to deeply explore a character that is not just an extension of your own personality. It is not acting, the best word I can find is exploration. Acting is concerned with externalizing the inner life of the character and producing a performance which the audience can connect with and understand. Immersive gaming is not concerned with portraying that inner life any more than a person is in real life. It is about producing a recognizable and consistent portrayal of someone who is not you, and interacting with the game world in the first person. This brief explanation may cause confusion or contention, but as above – let’s agree to disagree for now just so that we can pass through the perilous forest of naming conventions and out onto the great plains of shared understanding.

Why are you pushing this?

I am not pushing it, I am describing it so that others who might enjoy it, but who may not have been exposed to it, can get a more practical, less academically obfuscated, and hopefully more objective introduction. I do love this style of gaming, but it is my preferred style, not my exclusive style.

YouTube Playlist

The playlist [Click Here] will continue to expand until the series is complete. The list is still being added to regularly at the time of writing. The basic format is an overview of linked concepts in short clips followed by real world examples in  short follow-up clips. Concepts from the clips will be transcribed into posts here along with important items from the YouTube comments section for deeper discussion in a format of more convenience: text.

Casting Shadows YouTube Channel

8 Responses to “Roleplaying: The Simulation”
  1. Judging from the definition on the one link, this is definitely not me. I was described by one of the new gamers to the group as having “a weirdly collaborative narrative” style where the players get to throw out quips and ideas that I often add here and there to the world at large, but overall, I create the broad strokes of the play world, and there’s usually a definite base plot that they can play around with, but ultimately certain things are likely to happen in some way, shape, or form.

    I also tend to narrate in cinematic style, as if we were watching a movie, “Smash cut to Character X on a rainy, nighttime street — it’s total Ridleyville, reflected neon, steam vents going, etc…” or “Splash page showing planes flying over an audience. The narrative block tells us it’s San Diego County, 1933…” or the like. There’s almost a metanarrative quality, like we’re watching a movie or reading a comic book that we’re writing/performing at the same time.

    • Runeslinger says:

      That is how we used to run first and second edition Star Wars (WEG) when the dews of creation were still wet upon the Earth. Oddly, unlike the rest of the World of Darkness games I used to run, I also took this approach with a few of my Werewolf games. I think it was necessary for the energy of the setting, but also perhaps for the whole ‘fated’ feel of a lot of the background material. Things needed to play out a certain way.

      Generally though, my games are built around the idea that what happens, happens and I need to give a broad enough sense of the world and its denizens that the players can interact with it naturally and be comfortable predicting what will happen or manipulating events to achieve results. Finding a balance between this impulse and a narrative style was what gave me such trouble when I was trying to improve at running pulp games.

      • The only movie-style narrative in my games is when a PC or NPC is acting as a film director. Telling stagehands “LIghts… camera… action! Zoom in for close-up! Close-up!” kind of thing.

        • Runeslinger says:

          I rarely use, or have call to use, that approach any more, but when it was a more common part of my gaming diet I would like to announce cuts, add a lot of special effects during cut scenes, and call for Van Damme-style looping replays of significant achievements.

  2. anarkeith says:

    I appreciate that you’re making the effort to define these terms in your words, as I find your writing to be thoughtful, clear, and concise.

    In my experience, so much depends on the players and the group playstyle. I have one group that has been quite content to lounge on the narrative railroadi provide, while my other group has aggressively forged their own story.

    • Runeslinger says:

      Is that something which evolved on its own, or did the groups discuss their playstyle at some stage?

      If I am thinking a different approach would be good, I bring it up, but generally I set games up collaboratively… although the method of collaborating may vary, or not always be obvious.

      I haven’t had group in a long time that wants a set story, but once in play they seem to expect one anyway.

      • anarkeith says:

        My Friday group has always been very casual in their approach to the game. I started my Sunday group specifically to get more involvement from players. All the Sunday players were very supportive of that.

        Do all your groups expect a story? How many of your players are involved enough to create their own?

        I realise that many players won’t have enough time to fully immerse in their characters, but i’d be curious what percentage do.

        • Runeslinger says:

          With my groups it is clear from the start if the world will be a simulation or a story, but the habits of a lifetime of gaming do interfere with the conception from time to time: some in the groups will always expect things to follow a course in the way of a novel or TV episode, and it can twist their ability to reason through a chain of events. Others just merrily collect information and chart their own course. A story always emerges from their actions, but it is hard for some to get over the hump of “what they are supposed to do to complete the story” to a freer position of “what do I need to do to achieve what I want to achieve?”

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