Is GNS theory really an elitist theory?


Retired User
Is GNS theory really an elitist theory? When I look at GNS all it states that there are three self-evident role-playing styles and I will quote M.J.Young here for the styles “Gamists who enjoy facing the challenges of play, Narrativists who enjoy great stories that involve themes or issues, and Simulationists who seek to know what another reality might be like.”

The theory does not state that anyone role-playing style is better than another, it is implied that a role-playing group will be more coherent and potentially enjoy itself better, if the group is comprised of people of the same role-playing style. This is just common sense, if I am trying to put together a team to play a sport my team will function better if they all want to play the same game. Having a team were half of them want to play soccer and the other half want to play tennis is going to be more incoherent than a team were all the members want to play soccer.

Also it does not state that a person can not change their role-playing style and is somehow fixed in it forever.

This for game designers is an interesting theory, because it now lets the game designer ask more helpful questions about how to design a game that supports theses role-playing styles. Even if the game designer does not believe that theory, it still raises important question of why this is so.

However, I can find no elitism in the theory, nothing states that one role-playing style is better than another. If there is elitism associated with the theory then it is something that has been added as an addition on top of the theory from peoples own personal prejudices.:(

Christmas Ape

On your Ignore List
The advocacy of playstyle (the ill-named Narrativism in particular) and perceived elitism do come in later, as you say. However, these things also come from prominent voices within the community that was involved in the evolution of GNS from those initial essays, tying them rather strongly together. Or at least, that's my read of it.

Frankly, I don't personally so much care that it's elitist, but rather that it's simply bad.


Registered User
Validated User
Here's the thing about GNS:

The main guys behind GNS have all but said the "N" type players/games are superior - not just on a subjective point of taste, but in fact intellectually superior. The big guy (Edwards) behind GNS went so far as to state his thesis that the average gamer was not mentally capable of playing Narrativist games (and the reason for that is that other RPGs were mentally damaging).

"G" style gamers are, IMO, treated like the "dumb jocks" of the gaming hobby by the GNS guys, and "S" players are so bizarrely defined that no one can quite figure out who they are supposed to be. It's pretty clear that GNS thinks of the "N" players as the "cool kids".

So, even though the GNS theory itself doesn't actually say one style of gaming is superior - the fact that the authors of it have clear biases towards one type of play gives a bad taste to a lot of people (myself included). Thus, there are those of us who consider the whole thing elitist (and rather stupid, but that's a different story).

motivational poster

No posters for a while.
I am a Simulationist. I reely don't care about game play as long as it lets me do anything conceivabley possible. and I don't want themes or issues in a game. I love them in books and movies (I can find literary themes in even the most "un-artistic" forms of popular entertainment) but you shoulden't force it into a game.

Christmas Ape

On your Ignore List
That's where I am. I thought it was really cool when I first read it, but over time I've found it to be unhelpful and generally simplistic. I get more out of the discussions at GameCraft.
I've been meaning to get more reading done over there, actually...not to 'jack too heavily, but how's the advice and theory there for the traditional GM willing to experiment as long as his position remains largely intact?


RPG Reviewer
RPGnet Member
I've been meaning to get more reading done over there, actually...not to 'jack too heavily, but how's the advice and theory there for the traditional GM willing to experiment as long as his position remains largely intact?
The advantage to GameCraft is that Levi, Tony, and others are discussing their thoughts about RPGs based on the games they're playing and such. They're honest and welcoming, and never disparage playstyles - instead they just think of the whys, hows, and what different ways of running/playing provide. Of the people actively discussing theory, I get the most out of the discussions over there and have never felt like I was unwelcome or dumb for playing a certain way.

So, if you want to discuss theory without having people tell you that your way of doing things sucks then I heartily recommend it. Just don't buy into what everyone says, they're struggling with these ideas too.

Apologies to the OP for the off topic comments.


No, Big Model theory (of which GNS is a part) is not an elitist theory. It's something that will be argued pretty strenuously, though.
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