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Love it or hate it, the Big Model (and the GNS theory that is the root of the model) has become a part of the RPG landscape. As a frequent GM, I actually find the model useful for thinking through questions of what I may be neglecting or over-emphasizing in my own games. However, there has been some discussion of how these theories apply to the mechanics of a game and it seems clear to me that the mechanics of some games released over the last five years are at least influenced by the Big Model.

That said, I've not seen any RPG that explicitly stated it was trying to establish a set of mechanics that reflected the Big Model. Have there been any RPGs that were created with a stated design goal of incorporating the dynamic described by the Big Model?

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As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to the FAQ, the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and our rules for game recommendations. All responses must cite actual experience or reference others' experiences!

    
I'd appreciate an explanation of why this one is considered subjective and/or argumentative? As stated, it's a fairly straightforward, fact-based question - has there been an RPG built with a specific, stated design goal... –  rjstreet Oct 17 '10 at 19:42
    
For an answer, just look at the comments under RS Conley's answer. Further, there are plenty of gamers who reject the whole notion that the deconstruction is of any value, let alone accurate in any way, and such questions tend to draw them into severely negative snarky posts. Further still, a number of games have obvious GNS and/or Big Model influence, but it's not admitted in the text, tho' the author's discussions with Ron Edwards et al are on Ron's forum.... –  aramis Nov 7 '10 at 10:29
    
A bit of linkrot here - Wikipedia's article on "The Big Model" has been deleted. Link to the original source instead? –  Brilliand Apr 10 at 20:21

5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The direct answer is yes: Beast Hunters, I believe, was designed around Gamism. Its stated goal, taken from the free PDF, is:

"As originally designed, Beast Hunters is a challenge-focused game...You are going to have to think on your feet, be spontaneous, use tactics--in short, Step Up!".

And Step Up (normally "Step On Up") is, as I understand it, a reference to Gamism.

That said, the Big Model usually influences games in a subtler way. And it's important not to equate the Big Model with GNS: the Big Model is about much more than GNS.

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I don't know whether to give a +1 for "Big Model ≠ GNS" or -1 for a GNS-based answer! ;) –  SevenSidedDie Oct 21 '10 at 22:20

I don't think so.

Designers who accept the Big Model's validity are going to operate on the premise that the Big Model is just how it is. If you've bought into the Big Model, you're accepting that it is an accurate and portable way of describing games, like the quantum mechanics of RPGs.

In that context, it would be odd for a designer to state that they're "trying" to incorporate the dynamic it describes, just as odd as it would be to find an inventor "trying" to make something that obeys the laws of physics. As a wise hobbit once said, "There is no try." To put it another way, the Big Model is descriptive, not prescriptive, and it's nonsensical to "try" to design a game to conform to a the model when the whole point of the model is that it purports to describe all games.

To support this understanding of the Big Model point: It's easy to find a designer talking matter-of-factly about their game in terms of the Big Model, just taking it for granted. Here's a post where Vincent Baker talks about how the stat imbalances in Apocalypse World are a natural reflection of the game's colour-first design, and here he is again taking Big Model objects as givens. It's much harder to find a designer talking about the Big Model as something they aspire to embody with their game, as if they could "miss."

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Overall, The Big Model is theory about play, not game design. It talks about what happens when a group of people sit down with the purpose of playing an RPG, and how that play unfolds. The various layers should be understood in that context. They are not directly descriptions of a game text, a game design, or (God forbid) a player's preferences.

That said, you can look at theories of play for guidance when you're designing an RPG. I don't know of any game designers who have come out explicitly to say that they were designing a game built on The Big Model. However, as you said, many game designers have obviously been influenced by ideas formed while discussing The Big Model.

Some designers talk about The Big Model and related game theory openly, and their games appear to be built around those ideas: Ron Edwards and Vincent Baker are the most obvious, but I'd also include Lenny Balsera, Emily Care Boss, Paul Czege, Christian Griffen, Mike Holmes, Ben Lehman, Ralph Mazza, Jason Morningstar, Joshua A. C. Newman, Nathan Paoletta, and Matt Wilson--just to name some off the top of my head.

I base this opinion off years of interacting with these people on The Forge and other places (including in person). As far as I know, not one of those people has come out and said, "I built this game around The Big Model." For a more definitive answer, you can ask these people directly; try posting in The Forge or sending them and email or PM.

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God forbid! (+1) Sadly, the Forge has recently closed. –  Zachiel Feb 3 '13 at 23:13

I think the truth lies somewhere between "it's just a descriptor, you can't write to it" and "you can specifically design a game to GNS" (I forgo the Big Model so I'll just talk about this from a GNS perspective).

GNS helped people understand the different viewpoints players take towards a game. It helps explain a lot of the conflict that arises among players, and players and GMs, and players, GMs, and the games they are using. This is because the gamist, narrativist, and simulationist approach are somewhat coherent approaches that people can either like or dislike. Really they are like any other deconstruction of a medium - like something that tries to categorize "major types of horror movies and their tropes." It starts out as purely descriptive of gamers' approach to an RPG.

Of course, once you have such a deconstruction, people can choose to start making their games with it in mind - just like horror movies can and often do adhere to the identified tropes there (the couple that has sex gets it first!) Like anything like that, it can be helpful - "Hey, I've written a game that caters a lot to simulationist types, what kinds of things do they tend to like/not like?" Or harmful - "What, did someone write this movie out of the horror movie playbook after reading TVTropes too much? Suck!"

I'm not a big Ron Edwards guy, but his essay System Does Matter helps illustrate that the RPG and its mechanics can and do facilitate certain play styles. Sometimes people claim it doesn't, and that you can do X regardless of the game rules - but that's like saying you can play an immersive character in Monopoly. It may be possible if you've had enough absinthe, but the game itself certainly does not help you and in fact actively harms your attempt at that.

I think more and more RPGs acknowledge GNS/the Big Model in that it helps to clarify their approach. Back in the old days, RPGs tended to think they "had" to be simulationist. In the '80's heyday, many people evaluated games based on whether anything about them "broke realism." (This was before the Internet, where you had to call realism "versimilitude" to get the people who chortle "realism with fireballs? haw haw" to shut up.) People would try to graft on specific little "cinematic bits" or whatnot with limited success. However, with GNS they realized, "Hey, we can do, for example, a fully narrativist game." A lot of the games in the indie scene now are almost completely narrativist often with a strong side of gamist at the moment. It helped them say "Hey - simulation is just one goal, I don't actually have to include it as a supported agenda in my game."

And an understanding of the model helps understand certain conflicts. I don't want to open up an Edition War discussion, but IMO a lot of the concerns previous version players had about D&D 4e is based around it making some changes that move away from supporting simulationist play to supporting gamist play. When you hear people say "4e sucks," it is usually an uneducated way of trying to express something that game theory can help make more nuanced, like "in this edition, the game is advancing a more gamist agenda, making it harder for me to conduct simulation and in fact changing base assumptions among the player base I interact with to be more gamist. I don't prefer that method of play."

Therefore I would argue a lot of games are designed somewhat around the Big Model, in that most game designers have heard of it and it helps refine their understanding that there's players that like sim, drama, or challenge and that their game will appeal/cater to some of those based on how they write it.

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I concur. The Big Model, including GNS, serves to give people a vocabulary for discussing games that was previously either missing, or sufficiently unpopular to be practically missing. I have for years considered The Big Model and GNS to be for RPG theory what How to Read a Film is for cinema - a way to assure that we have names for concepts and to assure that we all mean the same thing when we use those names. –  gomad Oct 18 '10 at 15:54

While not the "Big Model," Edwards' own Sorcerer incorporates GNS.

In fact, GNS was so instrumental in his design, he included the "System Matters" article in the back of the book.

Several others make note of picking a GNS based position and working to be true to that position.

GNS was the origin of, and remains a small portion of, the Big Model; it's also the portion which a designer can most readily make use of as a design consideration; most of the rest is so non-predictive (and often unintelligible to the casual reader) as to render it useless for setting design goals.

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