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GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Feel free to discuss any general gaming topics, and any other games.

Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby Thalaba » Tue Feb 07, 2017 10:09 am

There's definitely something to GNS, though it has been pretty well picked apart now, and talked about a lot by people who didn't understand it in it's original context, which muddies the waters. In my view, it doesn't go far enough to model gamer preferences, and it doesn't acknowledge that people can like more than one thing at a time, which means that an effective game can be more than one thing at a time.

I've been developing my own way of thinking about gamer preferences, and it looks something like this:

The Gamer Motivation Model

The six motivations are: Action, Character, Setting, Story, Style, and Craft.

Action is all about what you can do in a game, and how you can do those things.
Character is about who you play in a game, and relates to self identity and empowerment.
Setting is about the world itself, and how important it is in the context of the game.
Story is about how the events of the game unfold, and whether they're coherent or meaningful.
Style is about the fashion of the game, and encompasses genre emulation.
Craft is about the actual play of the game at the table - the problem solving, play acting, and so on.

To look at these from the point of view of people who identify strongly with one of these things:

1. Action-Forward gamers are gamers that like to focus on the things our characters can do in the game. They tend to be all about abilities, stunts, feats, and so on. Character advancement involves improving these abilities. D&D, Agon, and basic Savage Worlds are the kind of games that would satisfy an Action-Forward gamer. An action-forward gamer can happily play a character just from the stats and doesn't need to know about deep motivations, personalities, or backgrounds. Action-forward gamers usually let the system's mechanisms dictate how things unfold.

2. Character-Forward gamers are those that focus on who the chararacter is, rather than on what he or she does. They're all about the 'me'. They like big backgrounds, storylines to be developed and resolved around their character, and pets or servants that they can control. Games like Vampire, Exalted, and Ars Magica appeal to these people. Character-Forward gamers like to have powers - not because of what abilities they grant, but because of how it makes them special. Character-foward gamers will pursue character development even if it drags the plot along on a tangent.

3. Setting-Forward gamers are people who like to explore alternate worlds and milieus. Like Character-Forward gamers, their characters are all about who they are, but really they're about who they are in the context of the setting. They can happily create a reasonably bland character and then let that character grow into the setting as they learn more about it. They tend to like descriptions of places more. and are bent on internal logic (is the setting coherent). Games with rich settings or with rules that create characters that are very integral to the setting are preferred, like, for example, RuneQuest or Artesia.

4. Story-Forward gamers are most interested in what happens during the game, rather that who their character is or the nuts and bolts of what they can do. They can even feel happy about their character dying, so long as it happens in a dramatic and cool way. They will also happily play multiple characters in a single session. They like games that give them the ability to affect how the story unfolds. Story-forward gamers are bent on external logic (is the story thematically coherent).

5. Style-Forward gamers really want games that recreate a specific style or genre (or intellectual property). They don't just want a character - they want a character from that particular genre or style. Character motives and actions are secondary to genre. Settings and stories are tightly controlled by the genre. Examples, I suppose, would be The One Ring, Star Wars, or Icons. Style-forward gamers are also bent on external logic, but in this case asking if the story stylistically coherent.

6. Craft-Forward gamers are generally open minded to all of the above, but want opportunities to practice and develop player or GM skill. They are gaming because they love the problem-solving exercises and opportunities to engage with other people in cooperation and confrontation. They also often like to play act their roles. I'm hard-pressed to think of games that specifically cater to this, or that don't cater to it - seems to me all games offer opportunities for role-play craft.


You can map yourself by taking 11 points and distributing them among the five motivations to see where you stand. For me, these are:

Action: 2
Character: 2
Setting: 4
Story: 0
Style: 1
Craft: 2

And for me this remains pretty consistent. Style may be growing in importance for me lately, and action less so, which would switch the numbers above to 1, 2, 4, 0, 2. 2

By contrast, my friend, Clash Bowley (who suggested the numbering scheme), mapped himself and found that his motivations were different depending on whether he was GMing, playing, or writing. Others have found that they can shift depending on other factors. They only define you for a certain point it time.

Similarly, a given game can be ranked. I see Ars Magica, for example, as:

Action 1
Character 3
Setting 3
Story 2
Style 1
Craft 1

Mythras is probably something like:

Action 3
Character 3
Setting 2
Story 1
Style 1
Craft 1

D&D is maybe:

Action 4
Character 3
Setting 1
Story 0
Style 2
Craft 1

It's just a model - a sort of RPG orrery to help you figure out your leanings. It's not a classification system, and it responds to how people change. This model is continuing to evolve - for example I've only added category 6 recently after speaking to someone who expressed a dislike for the first five factors, but who I know loves the problem solving and play-acting aspects. Ultimately, if it's going to work as a model, it must catch everyone, so it needs a lot of testing. Does it work for you? Do you know someone this doesn't fit?
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby Belgath » Tue Feb 07, 2017 12:09 pm

https://www.facebook.com/DungeonMasterS ... nref=story This face book page has some grate Video on jest this subject it been helpful for me there worth watching.
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby Matt_E » Tue Feb 07, 2017 7:14 pm

nDervish wrote:I've been told that GNS is intended to describe games, not players. To the extent that this is true, I suppose it explains why your "Socialist" type doesn't appear, since that's solely a characteristic of the people playing the game, not of the game itself.


Ah, that's a good point. Honestly, though, I think that if this scheme is to be used, it may be most (or only) suitable for describing players, rather than games. I can only hope that one would not sit around discussing the relative merits of people who fall more into one bin than another... ;-)
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby Matt_E » Tue Feb 07, 2017 7:32 pm

Thalaba wrote:The Gamer Motivation Model


That seems well thought out. I'm not sure my Socialist player fits in there; the only question is whether it makes sense to try to categorize him at all.

I would grade my group, as a unit, this way.

Action: 3
Character: 3
Setting: 0
Story: 3
Style: 0
Craft: 2

I would grade myself, as writer of the scenarios I am presenting at Old Bones, this way.

Action: 2
Character: 2
Setting: 1
Story: 3
Style: 1
Craft: 2

Hmph. I would have said it would be much more slanted toward Story, but I do give some attention (not 0) to Style and Setting. Hmph. See, I learned something already. :-)
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby Thalaba » Wed Feb 08, 2017 3:46 pm

The social player is definitely a thing, but that kind of person falls outside of the model because they don't really have (or never express) preferences, so you can never really see how they fit in. You could add a 7th 'social' category to the model, but it wouldn't really tell you anything about what kind of roleplaying games you'd like to play. It might be an indicator of whether you like to play with a lot of people. or prefer computer games to tabletop.
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby Matt_E » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:05 pm

Yeah, I agree, there's no real point in adding Social as a seventh category.
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby Icefield » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:25 pm

Thalaba wrote:The social player is definitely a thing, but that kind of person falls outside of the model because they don't really have (or never express) preferences, so you can never really see how they fit in. You could add a 7th 'social' category to the model, but it wouldn't really tell you anything about what kind of roleplaying games you'd like to play. It might be an indicator of whether you like to play with a lot of people. or prefer computer games to tabletop.


Yeah to me that person is equally interested or disinterested in the elements to the point where it doesn't matter. I agree that its purely a social consideration, they would be fine watching a show or playing cards as long as it's with the group and everyone is engaged.
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby Icefield » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:29 pm

@ Thalaba
Well I like your model because its kind of about a mix of things and I found it fun to think about. I come out like this I think:

Action: 1
Character: 1
Setting:3
Story: 1
Style: 3
Craft: 2
Dithering will only serve to waste your Action Points...
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby Icefield » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:42 pm

nDervish wrote:
Icefield wrote:Anyway I see it as a way to understand each other and myself, what do you guys think?


1) Even before Edwards laid finger to keyboard, I was describing RPGs as "alternate reality simulators" and it greatly annoys me that he's co-opted the term "simulation" in the context of RPGs to mean something else. Particularly when it seems to have been used as the undefinable catch-all for everything that he couldn't understand the appeal of because it was neither what he personally liked (Narrativism) nor straight-up powergaming (Gamism).

2) Online discussions based on GNS or GNS-derived terminology have a strong tendency to end up being worse than useless because everyone understands Edwards' jargon to mean different things, leading to them talking past each other at best or the entire conversation devolving into an argument about what "Narrativism" really means at worst.

3) I hear that even Edwards himself has disavowed GNS theory in favor of his new theory of three creative agendas: "Story Now", "Freedom to Explore", and "Step On Up". Which map roughly to Narrativism, Simulationism, and Gamism, respectively, but are somehow not the same thing at all in some way that I don't claim to grok.

4) I'm not sure whether it's a part of GNS theory itself or just something that happens to come up a lot in the same conversations, but Edwards seemed to take it as axiomatic that games should focus on only one mode of play ("coherent") and that it was a bad thing for games to support multiple modes ("incoherent"). I disagree with that assumption and tend to prefer "incoherent" games both on grounds of personal preference (sometimes I want to get deep into character, sometimes I just want to throw dice, and I don't want to have to change game systems every time I switch from one mode to the other) and social practicality (a game which supports all three modes can satisfy players with all three preferences; if it only supports one, then you're limiting yourself to only players who enjoy that specific mode).

So I'm not really a fan, although I've picked up quite a bit about it by watching other people argue over it in forums. I think it could potentially have been (more?) useful if Edwards hadn't grabbed on to terms that were already being used in RPG-related discussions (and, worse, explicitly redefining them - I'm told that, prior to GNS, the main RPG theory was GDS, but GDS-Simulationism and GNS-Simulationism are two completely different things) and if he hadn't polarized discussions around his theory by trying to push his own gaming preferences while in the purpose of developing it. As it stands, though, the terminology is confusing and the theory has been embraced primarily by people who share Edwards' preference for highly-focused storygames, both of which are severe limitations.

Matt_E wrote:Personally, I think I'm mostly a Narrativist, with some Simulationist and a little (but definitely some) Gamist to round it out. I used to be much more of a Gamist and less of a Narrativist.

I think there may be categories other than these three. Consider, for example, the Socialist (?!), who doesn't really care much about strategy and winning, or about telling a thematic story, or about creating the Matrix, yet shows up to every session anyway. Rather, this individual sees roleplaying as one of many fun ways to hang out with his mates.


I've been told that GNS is intended to describe games, not players. To the extent that this is true, I suppose it explains why your "Socialist" type doesn't appear, since that's solely a characteristic of the people playing the game, not of the game itself.


Thank you for posting this! I guess you were part of that original discussion and so If I could ask you did you mean for Alternate Reality Simulator to apply only to the game and not the person enjoying it? Also did your own description have some other way of describing what I find my predilections to be?

Here is my self-analysis-
I build worlds out of archetypes and tropes, and then look to have both rote examples and "interesting contradictions" (a la Moorcock) to inhabit the world. I measure the success of the game based on how cool the actions were in relation to the continuity of the setting. A friend of mine has pretty much branded me the devil because I don't like things that are just cool, they have to be cool + cool within the world framework. I don't do this for any other reason than natural preference developed since I first found D&D at 11 years of age. I don't do it because I want to dominate people, or crush their dreams. It's just my natural tendencies. The Sim description seemed to fit me to a T, so I was actually heartened that I wasn't just a bad GM as my friend seemed to want to have me believe (even though no one but him ever complained), but just different. Looking for something he wasn't.

So if there is some better way to have this described, I have to take advantage of having an original conversant to find out what maybe a better way of looking at it might be. What would you say is my style or agenda or whatever in your terms?
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby nDervish » Thu Feb 09, 2017 4:52 am

Icefield wrote:Thank you for posting this! I guess you were part of that original discussion and so If I could ask you did you mean for Alternate Reality Simulator to apply only to the game and not the person enjoying it?


Nope, I didn't even hear about any of this stuff until around the time that the Forge was shutting down. Probably around 2005 or so, when I started hanging out on rpg.net. But I've been told that Edwards came up with GNS in 2000 and I would guess that I started talking about "alternate reality simulators" sometime in the mid-90s or so, primarily as a reaction to all the WoD-inspired emphasis on RPGs as a form of telling stories, which is not a way that I've ever related to them. For me, RPGs are all about creating an alternate reality and then exploring it, or just living in it. Like any activity, people will tend to tell stories after the fact if they enjoy it or if memorable events happen, but the stories are not the point of the original activity. (I've also seen people asserting that the act of playing an RPG is itself the act of telling a story, but let's just say that I do not approach or experience it that way and leave it at that. I've already had enough long arguments about that and they never seem to go anywhere, so I'd rather not start another.)

Perhaps more to the point of the current conversation, my "alternate reality simulator" term is really just a description of what I like and how I relate to RPGs, not a part of any larger theory, so I can't answer your questions about how you fit into my (non-existent) personal taxonomy. The only reason I brought it up here is that, thanks to widespread awareness of GNS, I can't really use that description any more without people reading their own interpretation of GNS-Simulationism into it, when I'm actually using "simulator" in the common-language sense, not an RPG-theory-jargon sense.
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