[MUD-Dev] Storytelling vs simulation, AGAIN! was Re: Influent ial muds

Koster Koster
Tue Mar 2 11:40:59 CET 1999

Concatenating two replies into one post here....
My question was:

> > "Koster, Raph" wrote:
> > > Do any MUSHes actually have storytelling capabilities? What exactly IS
> > > storytelling capability in a mud? Can you define a feature set?

> From: Mik Clarke [mailto:mikclrk at ibm.net]
> > There are a few people around trying to evolve combat based
> > muds into role playing muds.  While some of it is enhancing the social
> > aspects a lot of it is trying to add some story telling capabilities.
> Storytelling (in muds, Miks view) is related to scenarios, quests and
> plots. 

Mik said both of the above. To my mind, this is a fairly reductionist view
of the issue. The fact is that adding quests to a combat-oriented game
doesn't necessarily constitute storytelling. I say this as someone who has
done plenty of exactly that. Quests per se tend to devolve into mere
"amusement park rides" regardless of how narratively powerful they may be.
This is directly related to the fact that they are static.

Mik also stated

> The system I'm looking at should be multi-paths, basically a network of
> 'story events', with the sequence of events you have taken determining
> what further events are available and how those events get played out.

This begs the question of whether this forms a narrative (defined as, a plot
structure imposed upon the participant) or whether it really is merely an
experience, with narrative structure imposed on the events retroactively by
the player. In other words, are you defining a branching plot structure in
advance, or is the following example

> For instance, if you met the wizards daughter and talked to her and she
> gave you the map to the wizards tower, he is likely to react differently
> when you ask for his help as to how he would react if you had killed his
> daughter and taken the map to his tower from her corpse. 

actually an example of good simulation, rather than storytelling? In which
case the wizard reacts that way because of an assessment of numerous
variables, many of which might be randomly generated (his attitude towards
his daughter, his liking of short hairy adventurers, etc). In which case we
have a generalized simulation system, not a narrative structure.

> From: Dan Root [mailto:dar at thekeep.org]
> Speaking as someone who has run several MUSHes in the past, 
> I'll take a stab at defining a more technically oriented feature set.
> For the most part the easiest way to describe a MUSH is to 
> take an original TinyMUD and add a user-accessable programming. [snip]
> There is also a fairly large set of 'trigger' attributes that the server
> may call when certain actions are performed. [snip]
> Additionally, there is a moderately rich set of semantics for 
> being able to create automated objects which interact with their 
> environment. Generally all users can use the programming language to 
> create personal objects and rooms. [snip]
> There isn't much 'hardcode' that enforces storytelling, though there are a
> fair number of available softcode packages that make very aspects of doing
> online role-playing easier.

OK, while I agree with everything you said above, I don't see how in any way
they add up to storytelling. They are useful tools for a number of things,
both creation of environments and narratives.

A few truisms I'd toss at this issue right here:

- if you've got a static structure of ANY sort, it will in one way or
another fail over the long term in your virtual environment.
- you cannot add new static structures at the pace that players will demand
- most tools people tend to add for "storytelling" are static structures:
quests, fillips in the environment, etc.

I think a fruitful course of investigation would be to ascertain what *sort*
of storytelling it is that people really crave in a mud. I think that Mik's

> It should also be possible for the world, or at least parts of it, to
> react to your progress through the story.

is key. People want their stories to have significance, and they want to
have an impact in the world. They wish to leave their mark. One can easily
make the leap of logic to an examination of why the two "classic" methods of
adding storytelling into a mud fail:

- static narratives aren't significant because they repeat. Eg, they are
essentially periodic events.
- randomly generated encounters aren't significant because they are too
small in scope.

This right here could be the key issue behind "storytelling vs
simulation"--neither one, as currently used, tends to result in narratives
that are sufficiently large in scope.

A third tactic, of course, is giving tools to the players, as Dan cites
MUSHes do. Yet my observation is that while tools for players are a very
good thing & a very powerful thing, few players actually build narratives
out of them. They build toys, they build environment. They usually don't
build stories. (And yes, better environment contributes to their building
post facto stories out of their memories, but I'm speaking of previously
determined structure here).

Lastly, the playerbase is highly resistant to change. This means that in
general, the parameters for both a static narrative construct OR a
simulation tend to be narrowly defined. We can't generally do things like
cause continents to sink, cities to die of the plague, etc etc, because it
scares the bejeezus out of the newbies, horrifies the players who lose their
standing or accumulated possessions, and disturbs those whose sense of
familiarity with the environment is the biggest reason why they still play.

To my mind, the only thing that has enough scope to really generate mud-wide
stories, then, is player social constructs. And usually narrative structure
will be imposed after the fact.

Thus, it could be argued that the absolute best tactics for mud storytelling

- encourage players (through the provision of tools for this purpose) to
form groups with conflicting goals (philosophical, territorial, etc) of
*some* sort that are a) significant in impact b) achievable yet c) not
overly destructive of the environment. This is a large design issue which is
in many ways frankly contradictory to basic design principles in many mud
code bases today.

- assiduously report the "latest news" in conflicts, cast as story and
narrative, with context, embellishment where necessary, and if need be,
presented in such a manner as to encourage ongoing conflict, picking of
sides, etc.

I don't know of any gaming muds that expressly attempt this in the manner I
describe. Dan, or others, is this the usual method of operation for
"storytelling" MUSHes?


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