[MUD-Dev] Something in the water

Adam Martin ya_hoo_com at yahoo.com
Mon Jul 23 08:54:52 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dave Rickey" <daver at mythicentertainment.com>

>> Hope someone finds some of this speculative stuff interesting. I
>> found it odd that Poole thought that the top category of online
>> world would be wargames. I think that virtual tourism (of real,
>> imaginary, and historical places) is probably a larger category,
>> for example.

> I think that once we accept that what we have is not a new
> dramatic medium, but is instead a superior form of escapism, we'll
> make a lot more progress.

> We're *entirely* too wound up in concepts from other mediums,
> ideas of story and pace and symbolism.  All of these things
> represent the embroidery around a very simple thing: People's
> desire to escape from the here and now into a world that isn't
> just strange and different, but strange and different in ways that
> make them happier.

> People don't want "A story".  They want *their* story.  Every
> other medium has had to build up this huge repetoire of tricks in
> order to provoke "suspension of disbelief".  In a virtual world,
> there's no *need* for suspension of disbelief, because within the
> context of that world everything is equally real.  How "real" is a
> friendship?  How "virtual" are the feelings of grief in "A story
> about a tree"?  How imaginary was the original Siege of Trinsic
> (The one between the Obsidian Order and the Trinsic Miner's Co-op
> on Baja)?  When these games succeed, they succeed because what is
> important to the players is reflected in the game, not by making
> what's important to the game affect the players.  It's the reverse
> of dramatic liscense.

The way we interact with any suitable interactive virtual
environment is neatly summed up by some of the research in HCI: the
area of "mental models". To quote Alan Blackwell's brief summary on
the topic, "The basic claim of mental models theory is that if you
know the users' beliefs about the system they are using, you can
predict their behaviour. The users' mental models allow them to make
inferences about the results of their actions by a process of mental
simulation. The user imagines the effect of his or her actions
before committing to a physical action on the device. ...  Where the
model is incomplete, and the user encounters a situation that cannot
be explained by the mental model, this inference will usually rely
on analogy to other devices that the user already knows."

The point I'm getting around to :) is that the effect of "they
succeed because what is important to the players is reflected in the
game" can be described and analysed using the mental models
terminologies and processes.  I can't claim to have tried this
before, since the application of this area of HCI only just occurred
to me, but - referring back to the conversations on building vocab
and contexts in which to discuss MUDs - this provides a reasonably
formal and repeatable set of methods for analysis, which could
replace the current state of the art finger-in-air statements we are
forced to make.

It is worth noting for historical interest that the research for
that whole section of HCI was driven by the desire to find
repeatable, engineering-like terms and methods that could be
repeated, stored, analysed etc., in order to replace the original
vagueisms and incomparable - but often conflicting - claims and
statements of belief.

> "Virtual Tourism" will succeed only to the degree that it allows
> the player to be someone of *consequence* in that context.  A
> simple walking tour of Rennaissance Italy or the Ch'in Dynasty
> Middle Kingdom, realistic or not, does not do that any more than a
> documentary of the same setting, but being minor nobility in the
> same contexts *would*.

I'm sorry to disagree, but I certainly have often felt the desire to
be able to wander in a virtual world, without having a desire to
interact, because my reason for being there is to watch and enjoy
the passive experience. The best example I can give OTTOMH is
real-life mountain-walking: in terms of social interaction, its
stultifyingly dull; however, climbing a mountain and seeing the view
from high up is amazingly enjoyable and rewarding - even if like
most people you don't do it "for the challenge" of reaching the top,
or whatever.

I suppose the reasons for doing such sightseeing in a virtual world
can best be summed up by Auden: "Worth seeing? Worth going to see? 
Mneh!" (e.g.  night-time in the desert is fantastic - you can see an
order of magnitude more stars than you will ever see almost anywhere
else - but it isn't necessarily worth going to a desert, then
walking for 4 hours in the baking sun just to see it).

Adam M
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