[MUD-Dev] Re: Storytelling vs. Simulationist (Was Re: Room descriptions)

Caliban Tiresias Darklock caliban at darklock.com
Fri Oct 2 19:53:29 New Zealand Daylight Time 1998


On 09:18 PM 10/2/98 -0400, I personally witnessed ApplePiMan at aol.com
jumping up to say:
>At 10/1/98 10:21 PM Brandon J. Rickman (ashes at pc4.zennet.com) altered the 
>fabric of reality by uttering:

Oohh, good quote header. ;)

>>Simulation wants a cause for each effect;
>>storytelling wants to make things up as you go along.  

Dissention: Simulation wants a PROGRAMMATICALLY DEFINED cause for each
effect, e.g. when something happens in the game, the *game* must know why.
Storytelling is satisfied if the *players* know why.

>let's presume, for a moment, a venture that has a huge bankroll 
>and is not concerned with making money, and hire a human GM for every 
>four or five characters in the world.

Or which has defined a working method of attracting and inspiring
volunteers to do it for free. We discuss this a lot on the Godlike mailing
list, which is MUSH-centric and about as hostile to simulationists as we
are to storytellers. (The signal rate is a lot lower, too, but you could
argue that point by saying that while the posts aren't always *topical*
they are at the very least *interesting*. The converse is often the case
here; I see a lot of stuff that's on topic, but I don't care about it. On
Godlike, the conversation is only on topic about half the time and the list
sits dormant for weeks at a time, but every post I see there interests me.) 

DISCLAIMER: This post will separate the camp into MUDs and MUSHes for
convenience. This is not meant to be a restrictive term, and it is possible
for a game to be so well-balanced in its approach as to be both, or even to
be something so entirely different that neither label applies. MUD and MUSH
are just a whole lot faster and easier to type than "primarily
simulation-centered game" and "primarily storytelling-centered game" so I
choose to use them as stereotypes. We could argue for months over whether
the terms are correct or proper, but why? It is not my intent to pigeonhole
MUDs or MUSHes and say "this is how these always work," but to observe
trends and consider the possibilities which present themselves in these
trends. 

One of the problems with attracting volunteers to an online game is that
while MUDs usually offer the appearance of impartiality with a cultural
understanding of bias and prejudice, MUSHes offer the appearance of bias
and prejudice with a cultural understanding of impartiality. 
The imps and imms on a MUD seem to know each other and hang out together
IRL in much higher numbers than in most other communities, and it presents
itself as a sort of exclusive club -- a club with a series of membership
requirements that are game-monitored, but passing those requirements
(usually something like having X level or an average skill rank of Y or
completing quest Z) is not in and of itself enough. 

On most MUSHes, volunteers are solicited in newsgroups, on mailing lists,
on other MUSHes, and when a volunteer arrives it is understood that there
are no real "qualifications" and the job is available to whoever the
existing staff *likes* enough to hire -- but the playerbase is consulted,
references are checked, and often a staff member is hired who is generally
considered a jerk but can do the job. 


Site admins used to be distressingly regular examples of "that dork" on
staff, but the rise of commercial game hosts and the proliferation of
internet access have thankfully offset that trend considerably; it used to
carry a WHOLE lot of weight if you could get your hands on a server that
you could host a game on, but now it carries a good deal less, so the
people who USED to get all kinds of special treatment because they owned
the server are now getting virtually nothing. (The so-called "server hack"
is still often granted special privileges, sometimes without the
administration's knowledge. Job security.) 

THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS. (I hate disclaimers, but they're necessary when you
generalise.)

My take on why this happens is reasonably well-defined. The imps and imms
on a MUD are generally people educated and interested in the sciences, and
as such they value the control structures of a MUD -- but you really need
to balance that, since any control structure can be abused, so they balance
it by selecting administrative personnel based on the control structures
and an arbitrary "trust" value. The folks who run a MUSH, on the other
hand, tend to be educated in the "softer" disciplines of psychology,
literature, philosophy, all those subjects which we laughingly refer to as
the "humanities" (would that make the sciences "inhumanities"?) -- and as a
result, they have a general distrust of and often a disdain for those same
control structures. Once again, they recognise a need to balance this with
control structures, so they make an additional effort to offset the "trust"
value which the system is based on with guidelines and rules. 
The common thread here is that both groups are trying to balance their
games, but both are also prejudiced in favor of their chosen directions --
so when they balance things out, they *overcompensate* in the other
direction. Part of this is because they place too much faith in their own
field; part of it is because they don't place enough in the other. 

I can't give anything in the way of a solution here, and I can't think of
anything else meaningful on this subject, so I'll take my leave of it.
Remember, MUD/MUSH as terms in the above are just indicative of the type of
gameplay that goes on for purposes of this post, and it is certainly
possible to turn a Tiny into a MUD or a Diku into a MUSH if you try. 

I think I got so bogged down in the disclaimers I forgot what my point was.
Maybe I'll remember it later. I'll think about it while I put on my NOMEX
underwear.

Henceforth, MUD as used in this post will include all online multiplayer
games which fit to a significant degree the What-Is-A-MUD (proposed WIAM
abbreviation for future reference) definition we keep arguing about. 

>Ah, but to be economically feasible (at least for a commmercial venture), 
>the storytelling world would need to be at least nearly as 
>self-sustaining. 

This is the problem. The physical world is bound by laws which can be
quantified by physicists and mathematicians and other "hard" scientists,
and as a result can be modeled. However, there is no program out there
which can write consistent, cohesive storylines which will spark the
interest and participation of players -- there has to be a human being in
there. Every game, as soon as it comes out, bangs headlong into the problem
that while computers are *intelligent* they are not *smart* (intelligence
is knowing something, smartness is knowing what it means). People, by and
large, tend to be smart but not intelligent. The combination is powerful,
but either on its own can succeed only in a series of well-defined tasks
that do not stray into the other side of the equation. Unfortunately, any
sort of world simulation which is intended to interact with human players
must take both into account.


>But remember, I'm coming at this from the viewpoint of a commercial 
>venture. 

I think every MUD is a commercial venture. It succeeds or fails in the
arena it defines (whether success is a matter of number of players, size of
database, money from subscriptions, whatever) primarily on the strength of
its ability to convince the public at large that to contribute to this
arena will be Fun. In other words, whether your MUD is commercial or not in
the sense of its intended income-generating potential, it will make or
break itself based on its ability to locate and please a market, full-stop.
And that's the primary aim of any commercial venture; to make the customer
happy, so he keeps coming back.


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