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

ApplePiMan at aol.com ApplePiMan at aol.com
Sat Oct 3 21:34:21 New Zealand Daylight Time 1998

At 10/3/98 11:55 AM James Wilson (jwilson at rochester.rr.com) altered the 
fabric of reality by uttering:

>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 

Or how about "nudging" the player into our chosen internal state, as 
cinema and literature do, by selectively filtering what text and visuals 
we display to induce the "mood" we want players to have at that point in 
the narrative? If that qualifies, then the system *I'm* envisioning would 
rank high on the scale. I'm not *telling* them how they feel, and I'm not 
controlling their actions; but I *am* trying to *cause* players to feel 
what I want them to using tried and true artistic techniques.

>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.

This is where the system gets very tricky, to my thinking. You want 
players to have the illusion that they're completely free to do anything 
that "makes sense" within the context of the game world, but that can 
wreak havoc on plotlines.

The most concise answer to your question would be in the middle of the 
scale, but that's not the whole answer. My system actually uses various 
plot-control mechanisms working at differing granularities to address the 
problem. At the largest granularity, the over-arching world conflict, 
there's actually no control beyond setting up the situation. As narrative 
becomes more specific to the individual, the systems for managing it (of 
necessity) operate at smaller and smaller granularity.

>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.

Again, sorry, no short answer. As far as code is concerned, everything 
you see in my system is an object, and so has the *capability* of being 
handled in a realistic manner. Over time, as players complain about being 
unable to manipulate items in certain ways, I'm sure we'll add more and 
more "laws of nature" (after beginning somewhere near the middle of your 
scale, I imagine). But those laws of nature will *always* play second 
fiddle to the narrative, if the two come into conflict.  

>	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).

If by 'real world' you mean *our* real world, I can't answer that (for 
various reasons, but mostly because it's revealing more about my system 
than I care to at this point -- I'll answer it later =) ). If you mean 
the 'real world' as defined for the purposes of the game (i.e., is the 
world self-consistent?), the answer would be to a large degree, but not 
if it gets in the way of narrative. Note however, that it's generally 
entirely possible to come up with self-consistent "reasons" to explain 
away inconsistencies, and do it in a manner that doesn't harm the 
narrative. Just look at all the hoops Piers Anthony jumps through to 
explain the inconsistencies in Xanth. My point is not that he does it 
well or elegantly, but rather that his readers don't seem to mind the 
contrivances, as long as there is *some* 'official' explanation of the 

>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.

To the degree it takes to make the player fully suspend his/her 
disbelief. Anything more, IMO, is gratuitous and distracting. Again, take 
a cue from the arts. A movie that has super-kewl FX is enjoyable in its 
own right; but it isn't likely to 'move' us as much as, say, Old Yeller, 
in which the 'sensory data' we're supplied is the minimum required to 
support and enhance the narrative.

If we could have true immersive VR to the degree you described (here and 
now), that would be one thing... but attempting it and failing is another 
entirely, and, to me, just plain boring.


Rick Buck, President and CEO  <mailto:rlb at big-i.com>
Beyond Infinity Games, Inc.
See you in The Metaverse! <http://www.big-i.com>

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