Thursday, September 05, 2013

What is Creative Agenda?


I’m tackling a tough subject today.  Hopefully, I can do it justice.  If Ron or Vincent or Ben come along later and correct me, I’ll change this post as necessary.

So what is a creative agenda?  The Forge wiki defines it as "The players' aesthetic priorities and their effect on anything that happens at the table that has any impact on the shared fiction"

There’s a lot of heavy words in that definition, so let’s break it down.  First, let’s deal with “aesthetic.”  Here, aesthetic means “a principled taste and/or style adopted by a rolepalyer for the enjoyment of roleplaying.”  Priorities means “what is most important to the roleplayer.”  At the table means, “what the players are literally, physically doing in the real world.”  And finally, shared fiction means, “the imagined events created by the players through mutual ascent.”  So, to reword creative agenda in Socratic Design speak:

“Creative Agenda is a principled style regarding what is most important to making roleplaying fun for an individual roleplayer when it comes to anything he or she physically, mentally, or emotionally contributes at the gaming table that modifies in any way the shared imagined events that the group-as a whole-has cooperatively created.”

I want to elaborate on “principled style”/”priorities” because this is key.  Creative Agenda (CA) is all about what is most important to the player when it comes to enjoying actual play.  And it’s all about actual play.  It is not about being with friends.  It is not about the snacks your GM’s mom makes every week.  It is not about personal relationships or identification with geek culture.  Those things can be important, but they are all social reasons for play, not creative reasons.  CA deals explicitly with a person’s pleasure that he or she derives from the imaginative fiction being created at the table.

What different creative agendas are there?

So far, there have been three creative agendas identified by Forge Theory.  They are Gamism (a.k.a. Step on Up), Narrativism (a.k.a. Story Now), and Simulationism (a.k.a. The Right to Dream).  I happen to divide the Creative Agendas slightly differently from what Ron et. al. did at the Forge, but this article isn’t the right place to discuss that.  For the purposes of this piece, these three are all there are.

What is Gamism?

Briefly, Gamism is a habitual prioritization of personal guts, sound strategy, inventive tactics, and problem-solving in risky situations.  This means, a person whose CA is Gamism will seek esteem from the other players by consistently guiding his character(s) to act bravely, innovatively, and fearlessly in dangerous situations.

What is Narrativism?

Narrativism manifests itself as a habitual prioritization of engaging on an emotional level to address real-life, human problems (such as war, poverty, love, loyalty, faith, abuse, etc.) while purposely not pre-planning any solution or outcome.  This is sometimes called addressing a theme or a premise in the Lit. 101 sense of those words.  A person whose CA is Narrativism, will allow the events of the fiction created during play to determine the outcomes of the conflicts, plot, and consequences made by the characters.  He or she will not go into the game with any pre-set what ideas of what his or her character will do in any given situation.

What is Simualtionism?

Simulationist play is the habitual prioritization of in-game causality and rigorous application of pre-established facts, themes, motifs, and attitudes in play.  The Simulationist CA values strict adherence to a source, whether that source is a licensed intellectual property (like Star Wars or Middle-earth), genre (like horror, science-fiction, or fantasy), or elements created during play (such as past fictional events the players established).  

So how does one measure Creative Agenda?

You can’t measure CA by determining if a certain, singular “thing” is there.  For instance, if you observe people using combat strategy, you cannot say they are “gamists” or whatever.  If the setting for the game is Earth-Sea, you cannot say it is “simulationist” or whatever.  Just because a certain thing is there, does not mean a certain Creative Agenda is also present.

You must look at what is most important to the players: what he or she consistently finds personally rewarding over an instance of play.  I’ll get into what an “instance of play” is at a later date.  Suffice to say, it is a lengthy period of time.  Do not confuse instance with instant.  An instance of play is not a brief moment of play.

Ask, what appear to be goals of this player as he or she speaks and acts at the table?  What are his or her decisions like?  What sort of actions does he or she consistently make during play?  Answering these will reveal what a player’s CA is.

Are players aware they are using a Creative Agenda?

Not always. In fact, very frequently a person might not be able to articulate what they find rewarding during play.  This is why people resort to saying they most enjoy things like, “I just like hanging out with my friends,” or “I thought this book looked cool from the cover, so I decided to play it.” 

What is the use of Creative Agenda?

Once you understand that players prioritize certain aspects of play, you can begin to design games that support that prioritization.  If you want to make a game that appeals to Gamists, you make a game that proses risky challenges that require skillful strategy to beat.  If you want to appeal to Simulationists, you create a set of mechanics or a gripping setting that engrosses their imaginations and encourages them to stay faithful to that source. 

Design techniques that support the three CAs is an article all to itself, and I’m sure that might be disappointing to my readers who were hoping to get some practical design advice out of this article.  Taking on design techniques from this perspective is a HUGE job, and one I’m not ready to tackle just yet.

For now, I’m going to leave it at that.  If you would like to read more about Creative Agendas, I encourage you to check out the Big Model Wiki or the Adept Press Forums.  Those are both great resources, IMHO.



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