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GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

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GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby Icefield » Mon Feb 06, 2017 3:03 pm

Disclaimer: I know that the GNS (Gamist, Narrativist, Simulationsist) Theory is not scientific, has a bunch of holes in it, and is only really suitable as a descriptive model.

If you're not familiar with it here is a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNS_theory

I have been discussing this topic with a friend for several weeks and it seems to explain a lot concerning differences we have had over the years. I seem to be a bit of an extreme Simulationist where my friend is quite strongly in the Narrativist category. When I play in his games I enjoy the actions of the characters but the world seems undefined and whimsical, whereas when he plays in my games he feels constrained by the filters I apply to actions and characters based on trying to keep continuity with the setting.

I feel like an important way of using GNS is to be like a cultural anthropologist and not make value judgments (when possible) about the other type of gaming personalities. Gamist players are playing to win, and that is what engages them. It may not be my cup of tea but it's a big reason that someone with that propensity will play a game for in the first place. I have been trying to embrace each of the 3 styles and playing with the idea of what a successful game looks like from this perspective.

All 3 Styles represented in such a way as to make the players happy according to their personal preferences without going so far toward one style that players who are not of that style get offended (or fatigued, or whatever term you like). Everyone is some mix of all 3 styles, and it's probably a moving picture, a dynamic value (changing from minute to minute).

Anyway I see it as a way to understand each other and myself, what do you guys think?
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby Icefield » Mon Feb 06, 2017 4:47 pm

Has this been brought up before here? I looked for a thread but could not find one. This community is very unique and I wanted to see what you guys think about this idea that to me is very helpful. I also wanted to see if anyone else had a bent toward any one of the styles that they wanted to kind of give their viewpoint on. Thanks for any input.
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby soltakss » Mon Feb 06, 2017 7:10 pm

Stick in in a Venn Diagram and it makes some sense, as people have elements of none, one, two or three of each.

Have the three groups as all or nothing ideas and the theory makes no sense at all.

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

Postby Icefield » Mon Feb 06, 2017 8:06 pm

I wanted to put that disclaimer in because GNS is more of a descriptive model to me than it is some sort of way to classify every aspect of a role playing game. The reason I wanted to ask is because Mythras is supposed to be a more sim-friendly system, and I was looking to see if that kind of showed up in the folks who post here a lot. I wasn't sure if the model was well known or a topic here already, but it breaks down to: Gamist, Narrativist, Simulationist.

Gamist - plays to win or to have triumphs. The necessity is for the player to have other players to experience this condition with because it is more powerful when it is shared socially.

Narrativist - is the desire to play to watch situations play out because of motives and themes. Narrativist focus on on the actions of the characters as that action relates to their motives and the consequences of previous actions.

Simulationist - play is derived from thinking about the setting or the system or the character as related to how the thing that is being simulated is built and performs as the sum of its parts. This is a creative agenda about being consistent to whatever the focus of the Sim taste may be: Setting, System, Social Structure, Character Construction, etc.

I maintain that these are not better than each other in any way but simply a matter of taste. Anyone else have players that were obviously looking for another agenda than what you or other players in the group were looking to experience? Were yo able to describe and come to agreements on what you were looking for in Mythras or some other game?
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby Icefield » Mon Feb 06, 2017 8:28 pm

soltakss wrote:Stick in in a Venn Diagram and it makes some sense, as people have elements of none, one, two or three of each.

Have the three groups as all or nothing ideas and the theory makes no sense at all.

I put very little faith in RPG-Theory at all. Instead, I prefer to play the game how I like to play it.


Thanks for the suggestion about the diagram :)
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby Matt_E » Mon Feb 06, 2017 10:54 pm

I remember writing about something along these lines once, in a different context. It was probably about metagaming or munchkinism. As we often say, there is no wrong way to play--as long as everyone is having fun. That amounts to everyone being on the same page about how the game is to be played. If everyone in your Monday group is a Gamist, fine, play that way. If everyone in your Thursday group is a Narrativist, also fine. It's when you try to bring someone from your Monday group into your Thursday group, unprepared, that things will get strained.

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. He enjoys the banter and vibe that is generated when they all play, but cares much less about why or how it gets generated, as long as it appears. He might have just as much fun playing poker, or touch football, or talking over B-grade horror movies--anything, as long as it's a social event. Have you not ever had such a person in your group? :-) It can really change the dynamic, for worse or occasionally better. This person can be frustrating, but also can be a strong reminder that it's all about having a good time together.

EDIT: Upon reflection, I think that my current crew may be primarily a bunch of these Socialists, with Narrativist and Gamist leanings. :-D
Last edited by Matt_E on Mon Feb 06, 2017 11:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby Icefield » Mon Feb 06, 2017 11:17 pm

Matt_E wrote:I remember writing about something along these lines once, in a different context. It was probably about metagaming or munchkinism. As we often say, there is no wrong way to play--as long as everyone is having fun. That amounts to everyone being on the same page about how the game is to be played. If everyone in your Monday group is a Gamist, fine, play that way. If everyone in your Thursday group is a Narrativist, also fine. It's when you try to bring someone from your Monday group into your Thursday group, unprepared, that things will get strained.

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. He enjoys the banter and vibe that is generated when they all play, but cares much less about why or how it gets generated, as long as it appears. He might have just as much fun playing poker, or touch football, or talking over B-grade horror movies--anything, as long as it's a social event. Have you not ever had such a person in your group? :-) It can really change the dynamic, for worse or occasionally better. This person can be frustrating, but also can be a strong reminder that it's all about having a good time together.


Great post. I think this makes sense, and I would say that your outlier player is operating off meta or external agenda instead of something in the game itself. I assume that player is there because they like what goes on in the room, or they are just so equally all three types that they have a good time no mater what. It's a great example Matt thanks for bringing that up.
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby nDervish » Tue Feb 07, 2017 6:35 am

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

Postby Dan True » Tue Feb 07, 2017 7:16 am

I have a fairly varied group of people, most of whom I've gamed with for close to a decade. Still, I've used the description with some success before, as a simply way to remender what to include in my adventures to tick all of my players' boxes.

While it's scientific usage is very limited and I find it hard to use it for descriptions or modelling of a game group, as a simple tool for GMs to get to grips with new players or old players in new campaigns, I find it useful.

Also note that you as a GM can be aware of player's types and help them expand and change. One of my players was a dead on Gamist type 10 years ago, who just wanted his numbers to go up and kill the next monster. But over the years I've nudged him and challenged him through play and he's broadened up a lot. Now he plays in a campaign with maybe a combat each two or three sessions.
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Re: GNS Theory, what do you think of it?

Postby raleel » Tue Feb 07, 2017 9:47 am

Yea... I've used this a bit, but going in with the understanding that it doesn't really replace talking to the player helps. It certainly doesn't cover the full range of behaviors. I tend to prefer the Bartle test with this, as it tells me more about what my players desire. That often is the harder question.

I wouldn't say it's completely useless by any means. It helps get you into a ballpark. It might be off because you are not getting enough data from the player. But it's not the worst ;)
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