[MUD-Dev] Something in the water

John Hopson jhopson at nc.rr.com
Tue Jul 24 10:59:44 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

At 07:43 PM 7/22/2001, Koster, Raph wrote:

> And yet, it seems that most often, what's important to players is
> the game's reaction to their actions. The feedback loops, the
> "ding," the level up and the new skills.

Let me take a quick moment to toss in a couple of technical terms
that might help in discussing this idea:

  There's a behavioral phenomenon called "learned helplessness" that
  seems applicable.  A rat is placed in a cage and every so often, a
  small electric shock (on the order of a static electricity zap
  from a doorknob) is applied through the metal floor.  Nothing the
  rats can do will turn off the shock during this first phase.
  After the rats have experienced this for a while, a way to escape
  the shock is provided, such as running to the opposite side of the
  cage.  But because they previously learned that they couldn't
  affect the shocks, the rats take a long time to learn that they
  can escape.

  However, there are conditions under which this doesn't happen.  If
  one changes the first phase of the experiment so that running from
  one side to the other causes the lights to blink, the rats quickly
  learn to escape the shock in the second phase.  Because the
  environment acknowledges their action, even if it's a meaningless
  acknowledgement at the time, they learn that they can affect the
  environment and are quicker to try that action later.

  Currently, in most muds, the environment doesn't acknowledge
  roleplaying at all.  It acknowledges pkilling, mindlessly hunting
  mobs or typing "Mine ore" nine thousand times, but an hour spend
  roleplaying is, in the eyes of the system, utterly meaningless.

  It may be that part of the solution is just acknowledging
  roleplay, even if that acknowledgement doesn't translate into
  character power.  For example, a number of muds have an "rpxp"
  system where players gain experience points as they roleplay,
  which usually work by counting says and emotes done while other
  people are in the room.  I'm not entirely sure I like this system
  as a way to gain power, but just creating a roleplaying stat that
  other players can check might be a big help.  If I could look at
  another character and see they spent 20 hours roleplaying this
  week, it would provide a reward for them and help guide
  roleplayers to each other inside a larger game.


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