[MUD-Dev] simulation vs. storytelling is a fallacious distinction

James Wilson jwilson at rochester.rr.com
Sat Oct 3 11:05:29 New Zealand Daylight Time 1998


I've been following this simulation vs. storytelling thread as it has veered off 
into a number of fascinating areas. As I recall, it originally started out
with some quotes from Legend in which various emotions, memories, and internal
responses (i.e. over and beyond what one can easily classify as sensory
information) were supplied as part of a location's description. People then
moved on to discussing 'storytelling' in the sense of 'reifying a narrative',
'simulation' in the sense of 'there is a consistent set of physical laws which
apply to every logical object' - someone (perhaps Raph) mentioned 'moving
spoons on the table' - 'simulation' in the sense of 'the physical laws modeled
closely reflect RL', and 'realistic graphics' vs. (let-me-call-it) 'stylized
representation'. Probably not in that order. So let me shoehorn things into my
own way of thinking and see what happens (I do  have a point, I promise).

Given some game, I want to know where it lies upon the following scales:

1. "manipulates-mental-state": to what degree is the player character's internal
state (emotions, memory, identity) manipulated by the game? Such manipulation
can take the form of simply informing the player of their character's
emotions/memories/etc (cf. legend's descriptions) or it can extend to
controlling the character's actions (cf. the berserker and love potion).

2. "events-are-narrative": to what degree does the course of events reflect a
'narrative', where a narrative must have a large-scale plot which ascribes some
larger significance to events? At one extreme, causality is controlled simply
by the behavior rules of individuals and objects, and events have little or no
significance in a larger narrative flow. Much like in RL, a textual description
of such is rarely more than banal. While there is nothing to prevent a gripping
narrative to arise of its own out of such interactions, it is highly unlikely.
At the other extreme, causality is tightly scripted in order to force events
into a narrative form. In the middle, narrative is more loosely guided by
various means, perhaps through hints, omens, etc.

3. "all-objects-manipulable": to what degree is every logical object in the game
amenable to 'realistic' manipulation, where 'realistic' means 'coherent with
the assumed laws of nature'? At one extreme are things like the ancient text
adventures where only certain verbs could be applied to certain objects; a
little higher up you have room descriptions telling you about beds that you
can't sleep on, and nuclear blasts that leave shops intact. At the other
extreme, every piece of scenery, every individual, is manipulable to the extent
that it should be according to the laws of nature applicable at the moment.  

	3(a). "real-world-simulation": to what degree does the game (attempt to)
model the real world? clearly this is dependent upon #3 (but not vice versa).

4. "looks-real": "to what degree is the representation presented to the player
(be it graphics or text) 'realistic' in the sense of 'corresponding to real
sensory data'? At one extreme would be immersive VR that looked, felt, tasted,
smelt and sounded like you were really there; at the other extreme would be
something like IRC or unix that doesn't even pretend to simulate sensory
information.

1, 2, 3, and 4 are all logically independent, though certain
combinations would be more or less difficult to implement. For instance,
"events-are-narrative" is made a bit easier by a high
"manipulates-mental-state" quotient (as then player characters' reactions can
be tuned to fit the narrative) and a low "all-objects-manipulable" quotient (as
then players can't muck up your carefully-designed scenarios as easily). A
highly-narrative game which allows players to detonate nuclear bombs
(wiping out all the subplots in progress within N miles) is going to be much
more of a challenge.

James




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