[MUD-Dev] New laws. (was: Player Manipulation of Environment)

Bruce Mitchener bruce at puremagic.com
Sun Nov 25 23:07:11 CET 2001

Marian Griffith wrote:
>   1) Muds can't be narratives for the players.

>     Players "live" in the game, they participate far more directly
>     than the reader of a book, or the viewer of a
>     movie. Techniques and strategies that work for a narrative
>     structure do not work for muds.  This is a direct result from
>     the "everybody wants to be the hero of the game" law.

I disagree with the conclusion that you've stated here.  I think
that techniques and strategies that work for a narrative structure
can and should work for muds, both in the sense of them being an
online world and their providing gameplay experiences.

While players "live" in the game, there are a lot of things going on
around them:

   * They see events unfold around them.  A cart passes them
     on a street.  They may or may not notice this, and if
     they do, it will be conveyed them in some manner, be it
     through a visual depiction, a textual description of the
     appearance of the cart passing, a textual description of
     the smell of the cart passing, or some thing else.

   * They may hear a story from someone else, player, GM, or

   * They may wander into a new situation and have to determine
     what is going on.  You wander into a bar.  Someone is
     arguing with your friend.  Or are they haggling over the
     cost of something?

To do the above, requires a couple of skills on the part of the
game, the game content, potentially some players, the GM staff, and
surely other components:

   * Provide a definition of a character or an object within
     the environment.  This would include providing the relevant
     and necessary information to convey plot information,
     an appropriate mental model for the user, as well as some
     form of visual or textual representation.

   * Provide a context for actions that are going on.  This
     could include the auditory cues, the visible environment,
     lighting levels, among other things.

   * In some cases, provide a greater context for the actions
     that are going on.  In the case of a large hunt, or a quest
     of some sort, this would potentially be through some sort
     of storytelling.

   * A progression through time and through events, with the
     world changing around the characters.

In a 1966 essay, _Cinema and the Novel, Problems of Narrative_,
Italo Calvino had written:

     "Let us say, then, that what the cinema has that is
     completely cinematographic ought not to be matched against
     its literary ancestors.  From that standpoint, cinema and
     the novel have nothing to teach other and nothing to learn
     from each other."

In saying that, he was referring to things like the use of the camera: 
focusing on someone face, doing a wide panoramic shot, exploiting a 
sequence of music.  Later, he says:

     "The cinema's love affair with the traditional novel has
     bestowed upon it several inventions that immediately became
     commonplaces, such as the off-screen voice to render the
     first person singual, the flashback to represent the past,
     the fade-out to convey the passage of time, and so on."


     "The challenge of the written word continues to be one
     of the chief motive forces of invention in the cinema,
     but -- a thing that never happened in the past -- literature
     has begun to function as a model of freedom.  The cinema
     of today employs a wealth of ways to tell a story.  It can
     make a reminiscence film, a diary film, a self-analysis
     film, a nouveau-roman film, a lyric-poem film, and so on.
     All this is new for the cinema, though less so for

Despite the separation between cinema and the novel, there was still
much for cinema to learn from the novel.  Similarly, judging from
the barest collection of things that I'd listed above, it would
appear that there is much to be studied, examined and probably
borrowed from the fields of literature, storytelling, and semiotics
to enhance our ability to present content, actions in the world and
assist in providing meaning and greater depth (but without a lot of
meaningless, excess detail hopefully).

As a quick, final aside, there was a course at Stanford last year:

Interactive Digital Narrative


     This intensive studio course focuses on developing
     interactive digital narrative skills by exploring
     real-time dramatic performance art in virtual
     environments. Topics include collaborative
     storytelling, 3D narrative environment creation,
     interactive dramatic structures, character development,
     virtual community constructs and online performance art.

  - Bruce

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