The D-M Creative Agenda Model – An Axis Instead of a Pyramid

The D-M Creative Agenda Model – An Axis Instead of a Pyramid

In an RPG or larp context, the term creative agenda refers to the reason for engaging in the playful activity. That different players (and the same players at different times) have a wide variety of creative agendas is well established, as is that those agendas influence play. There have been previous attempts to develop models of different creative agendas such as the Threefold model (Bøckman, 2003). While intended to be design tools, these models are often used to refer to different types of players.

Conceptual models are wrong, in that they imperfectly model a complex world. That is true for models of the physical world (e.g. modelling weather patterns) and even more true for models that include people. The question to ask is not whether the model is right or not, but whether the model is a useful tool for some purpose: typically, whether it has predictive power. Many previous models have failed to incorporate the presence of creative agendas which are not focused on the play itself, such as playing for wider social purposes.

This article proposes a new model based on an axial system, intended to be used as a design tool to enable a designer to identify and focus on supporting particular creative agendas, and to explicitly state them in the presentation to the players.

It may also be of use to debug an existing design, to improve its focus; and as a means to communicate to potential players which creative agendas are supported. Clear and explicit communication can avoid issues caused by a mismatch between the creative agenda the larp is intended to support and that favoured by the players, and issues from a mismatch between creative agendas of different players (e.g. immersionists not taking the dramatically appropriate action, narrativists breaking the internal logic of the setting).

The D-M Model

The D-M model understands different creative agendas as different areas within a conceptual space defined by two axes:

  • Microcosm to Macrocosm (shown as the X axis). A position on this axis indicates a focus tending towards either the individual or the world, both the wider social world and the physical world.
  • Diegetic to non-Diegetic. (shown as the Y axis). A position on this axis indicates a focus tending towards, or away from, the fictional setting.

Named after the two axes, I term this the D-M creative agenda model.

The D-M model shown graphically.

In this context:

Diegetic refers to motives which are themselves within the fictional setting.

Meta-Diegetic refers to motives that are themselves outside the fiction, but focused on influencing the fiction.

Non-Diegetic refers to motives both outside the fiction and not particularly focused on it. Non-diegetic agendas still affect the diegesis – the player still plays a character within the fiction, so influences it by being there (whether by action or inaction) – but influencing it is not their focus.

There are then six different regions in this conceptual space which represent different approaches: (from bottom to top, left to right)

Microcosm – Diegetic. The player’s agenda is focused on their own experience within their fiction. They seek to become the character, to think and act as their character would within it. An example of this style is the Turku Manifesto. (Pohjola, 2000)

Macrocosm – Diegetic. The player’s agenda is to explore the fictional setting. They might reflect on how different systems (economic, political, social, metaphysical, etc.) operate within the fiction, how cultural upbringing has shaped their character’s worldview, and so on; and attempt to accurately represent them. Outwardly this can appear similar to the previous position, but it differs in that it includes third-person rather than first-person thinking. For a further discussion of this distinction, see Hook (2012).

Microcosm – Meta-Diegetic. The player’s agenda is focused on guiding the fiction to the desired outcome for themselves. Typically this involves their character “winning” by achieving their predefined goal states.

Macrocosm – Meta-Diegetic. The player’s agenda is focused on guiding the fiction as a whole to their desired outcomes. Typically this involves creating a strong narrative or drama, which may include conscious or unconscious use of dramatic elements or narrative arc principles.

Microcosm – Non-Diegetic. The player’s agenda is focused on personal development outside the fiction. Examples include playing for physical exercise, to practice skills, or for escapism for real world concerns.

Macrocosm – Non-Diegetic. The player’s agenda is focused on social interaction and relationships unrelated to the fiction. Examples include playing to spend time with existing friends, to acquire new friends, or because the play is a part of study, employment or research activity.

A player’s creative agenda is not fixed, even within the same event. It gradually shifts as play develops.

Existing Concepts Positioned Within the D-M Model

This article will now show how some existing larp concepts fit into and can be better understood by use of this model.

Montola et al.’s (2015) term steering can be understood in terms of this model as referring to all agendas above the X-axis on this diegetic model; all agendas that lead the player to manipulate the diegesis for reasons outside of diegesis. This model can be seen then as a more nuanced approach to understanding steering.

Playing to lose is a weakly-defined term, but can be understood as located as a Microcosm – Meta-Diegetic agenda. The player is still attempting to influence the diegesis to bring about their predefined goal state; it’s essentially the opposite side of the same coin as a Gamist creative agenda.

Edularps can be seen as a form of larps designed to support particular microcosm – non-diegetic creative agendas, such as players gaining knowledge and/or skills.

The deliberate use of transparency and meta-techniques can be seen as design choices that particularly support meta-diegetic creative agendas.

Hook (2012) introduced a distinction between character immersion (immersion into the character as a complex unique individual) and situation immersion (immersion into the situation and role of the character, such as that of a guard or prisoner). Both of these can be understood as located in the Microcosm – Diegetic space, with “situation immersion” located closer to the Macrocosm than “character immersion.”

The gamist fallacy is a term for gamist players justifying their in-game behaviour by an immersionist position. E.g. “Trying to win is what my character would do.” It is a fallacy, as real people do not usually play the “game of life” effectively. In this model, this fallacy can be understood more clearly as a failure (either in perception, or in external discourse) to properly distinguish different positions on the diegetic (Y) axis; that is, confusing meta-diegetic aims as diegetic ones.

This model helps understand why narrativism (playing for a strong story) and Turkuist immersionism (playing to become the character) are inherently opposed – they contrast on both axes.

Thus, it’s easier for a gamist (someone playing to win) to use immersionist discourse (as per the gamist fallacy) than a narrativist. Narrativism is conceptually closer to gamism (both are trying to manipulate the diegesis to achieve an off-game desired resolution) and to simulationism (both are thinking in the third person about the wider diegetic setting) than it is to immersionism.

The model itself does not make any value judgements between different agendas, simply recognising they exist. It can be used to compare and contrast different design styles. For example, the “Vi åker Jeep” design rhetoric focuses on supporting the Meta-Diegetic – Macrocosm level among players.

Conclusion

The D-M model offers a new way to be conscious of and to discuss different creative agendas by explicitly defining two distinct axes upon which different agendas are positioned. It more clearly articulates the relationship between diegetic, meta-diegetic and non-diegetic techniques. It is a tool to enable focused design, clear communication to participants, and a shared agenda between participants.

References

This article was initially published in The Knudepunkt 2015 Companion Book which was edited by Charles Bo Nielsen & Claus Raasted, published by Rollespilsakademiet and released as part of documentation for the Knudepunkt 2015 conference.

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