[MUD-Dev] Information sharing (was: Re: Where are we now?)

Dave Rickey daver at mythicentertainment.com
Thu May 10 09:27:21 New Zealand Standard Time 2001


-----Original Message-----
From: Daniel.Harman at barclayscapital.com <Daniel.Harman at barclayscapital.com>
>-----Original Message-----
> From: Dave Rickey [mailto:daver at mythicentertainment.com]

>> Well, there's also the fact that once we get beyond nuts and bolts,
>> emotions can get a little high and egos a little bruised.  There's
>> a lot of stuff I don't talk about any more because I got the
>> impression.people thought I was heading off into left field.  When
>> I start drawing parallels between suicide as a sociological
>> phenomenon and account cancellation, and the response is either a
>> blank look or a heated denunciation for "trivializing" suicide, one
>> way or the other I have to figure that line of reasoning isn't
>> worth sounding out in public.

> I'm not sure people shyed away from it as I recall the thread, I'm
> just not certain where one could go with it. For what its worth, I
> disagree with your analysis. From watching people cancel accounts in
> Everquest, I've seen some patterns emerge. There seems to be two
> categories that people fall into when they cancel, those that stay
> part of the community through message boards and the like and those
> that just drop away completely. Those that linger around tend to
> have invested more time in the game and one is seldom suprised when
> they start playing again.

Well, I'll tell you what "rang the bell" for me as I read about that
study: When I was a GM for EQ, there was a player who wanted to be
banned.  He sat himself down in Greater Faydark and started cussing
out all the newbies.  A Guide picked up the petition, and passed it on
to me since the only response he was getting from the player was more
cussing.

As I talked to the player, he explained (between expletives) that he
was sick and tired of dealing with the game, but he couldn't bring
himself to quit, he wanted me to ban him so that he couldn't come
back.  When I asked him "So, this is the virtual equivalent of
'Suicide by cop?', he was floored, his father had apparently been a
police officer, and once I pointed it out he saw what was happening as
an exact parallel to some of the things his father had told him about.

I saw other incidents of players setting out to be banned in order to
quit permanently, and I saw other things that paralleled 'suicide'.
For example, many players, having made the decision to quit the game,
go out and give away all of their posessions, spend time saying
farewell to old friends, do incredibly foolhardy things (in the game
context), write long farewell messages for posting on fansites, etc.


Not *all* account cancellations show parallels to suicidal behaviour,
but enough did in my experience to get me started thinking about those
equivalencies.

When I was reading up on sociology, I ran across mentions and
citations of a seminal study from the 19th century that looked at
suicide as a *social* phenomenon.  What the study found, and has been
confirmed many times since then, is that suicide is almost always
related to the suicidees standing with their social mileau.  They were
either cut off from that mileau, wanted to cut themselves off from
that mileau, or would be cut off if they *didn't* commit suicide.

Where do i think this reasoning can lead?  Well, at one level there's
the cold-blooded business reality of it: *If* the suicide parallel is
valid, and *if* the sociologic truism that suicide is the product of
social disengagement is valid, then making stronger social fabrics in
these games means higher retention.

Beyond that, I'm extending the "game is the community" reasoning one
step further, we're only incidentally making games, what we're
*really* doing is defining a social space.  The "game" is the bait in
the trap, how we hold onto them long enough to get them engaged in the
community, once they are there and engaged the "game" receeds and the
effects become more subtle.

If we're defining a social space, the obvious next question is whether
we have any control over the resulting society.  There's a tendency to
"black box" the whole community side of these games, if there was a
process diagram of the dynamics of these games as communities, there'd
be this big amorphous cloud captioned "And then a miracle happens."

What causes the community to form?  Will different games form
different communities?  If they do, can you control the final form?
If you can, is it caused by initial conditions, natural reponse to
game fundamentals, or ongoing particpation?  What are our operating
parameters for each of these?

All fundamental questions, some of which have been asked in other
forms, but I think we've made the statement "The game is the
community," and left it at that.  The statement rings as inherently
true, but we shy away from exploring the implications: If the game is
the community, and we make the game, then we also shape the community.
Sociology has always been an passive science, long on empircism and
observation, short on theory and experimentation.  I think what we're
"really doing" is touching on the edges of some form of "sociological
engineering."

!It's easy to convince someone these days that every bit of gameplay
should be evaluated for psychological and aesthetic effect (not right
or wrong of that impact, but whether it creates the desired effect).
I'd extend the logic one step farther: In a MUD-type game, being a
"sociological space", every bit of gameplay should be evaluated for
it's sociological effect.

--Dave Rickey

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