SCENG Theory

When I saw The Nine Lives Of Thomas Katz a few years ago there was a Q&A session afterwards with director Ben Hopkins. Several questions came from a rather emotional young man who’d clearly thought a lot more about the film in 90 minutes than Hopkins had when he was filming it.

“But… but… you must be making a point” he complained.

“If all I wanted was to make a point, I could have written it down on a piece of paper and given it to you in the street” Hopkins replied.

He went on to say that he didn’t feel he was obliged to make any point: he just wanted to make a bit of nonsense.

Just recently I hooked up with friends to play a bunch of games. I ran King Morris’ Feast, this time using Unisystem, and it worked very well indeed. We boardgamed, we talked and we drank. During the talking bit Admiral Frax made an interesting proposal – she challenged Ron Edwards’ GNS theory saying there are two other types – Emotionalism and Conversationalism.

My instinct (and apparently I’m not alone) was to argue that these are sub-classifications of Narrativism; Frax rejects that argument. The main problem I had, and also the key to Frax’ argument, is that Emotionalism and Conversationalism aren’t compelling goals for me in themselves – they come about as part of the narrative. But for Frax they are compelling goals – therefore they are distinct from narrative construction.

It made me think about Thomas Katz. Here the director had no goal to make “a point”, but he clearly wanted to make a film. The director’s goals were arguably not narrative, but they were conversationalist – the film being the sum total of interactions and events within.

The confusion with discussing GNS – sorry, SCENG theory (thanks, Mo) is seperating goal from tools. Any game can have a goal of creating a narrative but may use gamist, simulationist, conversationalist or emotionalist tools to achieve it. A conversation can arise due to narrative, and even emotion can arise as result of game elements (if the player is emotionally invested in the outcome of the game).

And I also realised something about myself. Gamist goals really don’t suit me any more. I’ve almost completely lost my taste for level grinding either in tabletop or video games. Gaming as a tool to generate narrative and emotion, certainly – but killing the monster and taking its treasure has never appealed.

Being a scientist I like neat little models which explain the universe, which is why I’m drawn to GNS theory. But models need to be challenged and adapted when they are shown to be incomplete – and I feel Frax has done this. Welcome to SCENG.

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  • Thanks for the post about SCENG Smiorgan. I hope MO’s new acronym catches on.

    I like your analogy with the film director – sometimes I just want to enjoy the process of something for the sake of itself, like in a conversation.