[MUD-Dev] RE:

Marian Griffith gryphon at iaehv.nl
Wed Nov 14 20:53:27 CET 2001

In <URL:/archives/meow?group+local.muddev> on Sun 04 Nov, Jeff Cole wrote:
> On Wednesday, October 31, Marian Griffith wrote:
>> On Sun 28 Oct, Koster, Raph wrote:

> A simple /tell or /send implementation provides all the
> infrastructure necessary for Sex to emerge in the game.  These
> mechanisms are not implemented specifically for Sex, but rather,
> to facilitate player communication within the game.  Sex (and, too
> a much greater extent Friendship) directly motivates a player's
> actions in-game.

The fact that people choose to talk about sex does not make the game
-about- sex. Not that you seem to be implying that. So I do wonder
what your point is.

> In most (all?) games, though, violence is the only
> designer-sanctioned behavior through which a player can advance
> their avatar and acquire.

I think that Raph meant "conflict" rather than violence. I still
disagree that a game must either be about sex or conflict. Think of
children playing with dolls. There is no conflict going on in that,
and no sex either, but I doubt anybody would argue it is not a game.
For a more mature example you can look at e.g. PernMush, or any of
the other roleplaying mushes set in the Pern universe.  There is no
(at least not much) violence or conflict going on, and if there is
sex it certainly is not what the game is about, and it is kept at a

>>> While we're bemoaning the lack of maturity in the field, we need
>>> not to miuss the forest for the trees. It's not too much sex and
>>> violence that is the problem. It's that it's SHALLOW sex and
>>> violence. This is why we decry casual PKing, why we snicker at
>>> puerile tinysex logs. And why we get excited to hear of the
>>> possibility for meaningful PvP or get defensive about the
>>> "reality" of online relationships.

>> This is very true. The point is that most games are about
>> violence without (much) context. That does not mean there is no
>> back story, but there simply is no context.  The whole focus of
>> the game is to go out and "kill" things. Everything in sight,
>> actually.  There is no justification, no explanation, no clue why
>> you should do this.

> But there is justification (experience, loot, advancing one's
> character) and in some cases explanation (quest NPC).

This is not justification but reward. That is something different.
In the extreme this is Quake (or whatever the currently popular
shooter game is). It is no surprise to me that the "big" games are
drawing the same crowd, and the same playing style, as Quake.  The
games are, in essence, the same.  Despite all the cosmetic differ-
ences.  If there was justification, however shallow, there would be
a reason why you go out and kill things that actually made sense
within the game world.  And for a game to have more depth than a
slasher movie, it would have to provide a great deal more than just
some cheap excuse to go out and slaughter things.  A while back we
were discussing the concept of morality, and if it could be
implemented into games. That is a subject that touches on this one,
in that it challenges the players to justify their own actions.  Of
course to do that the game must offer a *much* greater freedom to
act than is customary on the current crop of games. Which brings us
back to the original argument.

>  The problem > is that the justifications and explanations are
>  shallow and lazily > implemented.  Earlier, Marian observed:

>> In general it is the contextualisation that -makes- the story,
>> because it gives the underlying forces meaning and direction ...

> That is a tasty nugget, that one.

> To compare, vis-a-vis entertainment, such games to a book or a
> movie yields no useful insight.  Such games need to be compared to
> a range of books and/or range of movies.  It seems that the
> argument here (and industry-wide belief in general) is that
> designers should provide more context and therefore more story.

I certainly agree that you can not compare games to books or movies.
In those you, the reader or spectator, are a passive observer.  The
story revolves around the characters, not about *you*.  By contrast
in games you, the player, *are* the character, the game therefor re-
volves around you. That is the great strength and weakness of games.
Strength because it has the potential to be so much more engaging
than any book or movie could be.  Weakness because there are several
hundreds or thousands of you's simultaneously around who the story
revolves.  Unlike a book or a movie a (multiplayer) game can not be
about heroes.  Or more precisely, it can not be epic. The individual
player can not make a difference to the game. This is the real point
where the transformation from tabletop games to multiplayer online
games fails. The first can be epic, about heroes who change the fate
of the world. The second can not.  For future games we must look not
to more stunning visuals and even more clever game mechanics.
Instead we must look to games where the player is relatively
stationary, except by social advancement, and where the content is
non-conflict driven.  At least to a significant extent.

> I disagree.  Or, more accurately, I disagree that it is the
> designer's responsibility to directly supply context.  To directly
> supply context limits the depth of the context and story.  It is
> the designer's responsibility to provide the tools by which
> players can create context and story.

Players providing their own content seems to be the most effective
solution at this moment (considering the relative success of mushes
and e.g. Skotos or WebRPG).  As somebody else argued, it may not be
the best -quality- content, but it is viable from an economic point
of view.  It also strengthens the engagement of the players because
they are more intimately part of the current plot.  In that respect
quality storytelling is not necessarily better (because the game is
not primarily about storytelling, but about acting).

>> It is, in fact, worse than the worst horror B-movie, which does
>> at least justify showing nudity and violence with a very thin
>> veneer of reactionary morals.  In short, games have no story.

> To the extent that such games are multiplayer, the question is
> should they have inherent story?

Well, there is story and backstory. I agree that the game should not
provide a detailed story, because that would reduce the player to a
passive observer who at the appropriate time may perform his tricks,
but is otherwise at the mercy of an invisible narrator. However they
should not only provide a great amount of backstory. They should al-
so provide a great amount of freedom to act within the game. At this
moment most games have only one real choice: attack or not, with the
underlying assumption that unless you attack your character is not
going anywhere. It provides a greater variety of means to attack but
that is ultimately just window dressing.  But even such games should
ideally provide a backstory and stick to it.  I.e. enforce its logi-
cal conclusions.  Right now, for the sake of attacting players, they
do not. The game mechanics are disjoined from the backstory and you
end up with a game that is just a glorified shooting gallery.

>>> If we want to go on a crusade to fix something, how about we fix
>>> the fact that your average cartoon does a better job at
>>> portraying the human condition than our games do?

>> The problem, as I see it, is that online games have no story to
>> tell. Therefor they can not offer context or meaning, only
>> facades They look impressive at first, but soon you start to
>> notice there is no substance behind it.  Perhaps Skotos is taking
>> a small step in the right direction by offering an elaborate
>> stage, but no content, other than that the storytellers are
>> producing.

> Bingo!  Why is that a small step?  I think this is a rather
> important realization.  That Marian would consider it a small step
> speaks to the extent that the traditional groupthink is ingrained
> in the approach to development.

It is a small step because it goes only a short way in this direct-
ion. I also believe that, at this moment, it is impossible to go any
further.  Too far ahead and there is not enough support to carry it.
One of the things that is necessary is a much tighter integration of
online existence into our everyday lifes. Not in the traditional cy-
berpunk sense of "virtual reality replacing reality" but to provide
a fertile ground from which a new artform can develop.

>> Of course this relies on story tellers (or in the absence
>> thereof, on the players entertaining themselves by dreaming up
>> conflicts and romances).

> The players are the best-suited to develop stories.  The dogged
> determination to apply singleplayer game development approaches to
> multiplayer games continues to hinder the development of truly
> immersive gaming experiences.

Even so, it is my experience that the current crop of mushes still
rely on players who are storytellers.  Not everybody is capable of
developing, and staging and engaging story. Some people are actors
while some are directors, even if both are players.  I was not li-
miting my remark to external storytellers, but refering to people
with that rare talent.  However, in the absence of one of them the
players can still entertain themselves with a much smaller scale
plot. Same as on hack-and-slash games most of the players can form a
group of two or three, but few can pull off the group of twenty that
is needed to take on the biggest monster.

Yes - at last - You. I Choose you. Out of all the world,
out of all the seeking, I have found you, young sister of
my heart! You are mine and I am yours - and never again
will there be loneliness ...

Rolan Choosing Talia,
Arrows of the Queen, by Mercedes Lackey

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