As I understand GNS theory, Gamism is why you play. It's an "aesthetic priority". Exploration (the shared imagining of characters, setting, situation, system, and colour) is that "something else".
If you swap out Gamism for "aesthetic priority", you can see that it doesn't make sense: "But an RPG only works as an RPG at all when there's something offered besides pure aesthetic priority."
It's been over two years since I really sat down and thoroughly went through Ron Edwards' GNS essays, but I don't recall that particular verbiage. If you have some supporting evidence that suggests it's valid in this context, I'd love to see it; otherwise, as it is "aesthetic priority" is too nebulous in this context to provide any real meaning here.
However, here is Ron Edwards' definition of gamism in his own words
- Gamism is expressed by competition among participants (the real people); it includes victory and loss conditions for characters, both short-term and long-term, that reflect on the people's actual play strategies. The listed elements provide an arena for the competition.
In this sense, an RPG with nothing but gamist rules structures
is nothing more than "an arena for competition." Taken to its absolute extreme, gamism removes "narrative" and "story" from the equation entirely, and inhabits its own self-contained competitive space, with victory and loss conditions that reflect actual play strategy.
Sure, Edwards recognizes that there are both short- and long-term "win and loss" conditions----but unless the players and group ascribe some kind of narrative form, element, or substance to those conditions
, they cease to exist beyond any single "step on up" encounter. Gamism in an RPG only achieves meaning in the fiction
when it is necessarily attached to some kind of narrative structure---"We did this, and as a consequence this happened, and as such, we are now faced with challenges X, Y, and Z." Now, in some instances, a GM may only care about X, Y, and Z as situational variables to set up the next gamist encounter, to provide "flavor" for the next "step on up." But even in as minimal fashion as that, a gamist agenda still relies upon something besides pure gamism
to create the "shared fiction" and flow of events happening in an RPG.
Again, don't get me wrong----I am absolutely not opposed to gamism. I am a die-hard Eurogamer. I absolutely love Dominion, Lord of the Rings Living Card Game, 7 Wonders, et. al. What I'm saying is that an RPG that radically, massively, and unabashedly makes gamism the primary focus of its playstyle agenda will RIGHT NOW, TODAY have a hard time differentiating itself from other gamist pursuits WITHOUT a very strong, coherent narrative / story component to back it up. The Legend of Drizzt board games have a more than superficial resemblance to the core 4e mechanics----but it's not an RPG any more than Dominion is.
Now, the flip side to this, is that narrativism without a rules structure literally is "a bunch of people sitting around a campfire telling stories." There's no interactive "space" for dramatic resolution other than simply everyone agreeing, "Yeah, that's what really happened." The game
in an RPG is important. I'm merely saying that an RPG in our current social, technological, and entertainment climate
is going to have a dramatically harder time differentiating itself as a gamist pursuit. In other words, when WotC made 4e, they attached the cart to the wrong horse. They thought an emphasis on encounter-level gamism was going to build their audience, when in fact, RPGs are now differentiated from other gamist pursuits by their narrative