[MUD-Dev] Something in the water

Marian Griffith gryphon at iaehv.nl
Wed Jul 25 22:27:47 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

In <URL:/archives/meow?group+local.muddev> on Tue 24 Jul, Dave Rickey wrote:
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Koster, Raph <rkoster at verant.com>

>> It seems undeniable to me that there is significant potential for
>> online worlds as a dramatic medium, just as it is patent that it
>> is a form of escapism. It's clearly a medium of communication, of
>> course.

> Where my stance is the opposite, traditional storytelling was
> directed, the teller aimed it at an audience.  We *can't* seem to
> tell stories very well in this environment, the usual player
> response to attempts at "plot" is a yawn.  Is it because we don't
> know how, or because it just isn't a place to "tell" stories?

It is not a place to tell stories.  It is a place to -live- stories.
Except that there are entirely too many main characters and not e-
nough support cast. A plot is passive, and in most muds, exceedingly
limited anyway (you can only kill things and carry loot somewhere..)
The only emotional response a mud is likely to invoke in a player is
a brief thrill, and only if the player is identifying with her char-
acter. Otherwise she will just yawn at facing the big bad dragon and
see if she can defeat it directly or must die a couple of times.  In
the game there are dozens, if not thousands of other players who are
in exactly the same position, and any chance of dramatic potential
is lost before it could be attempted.

The only real solution that I can see is making the game world MUCH
richer so that a great number of actions is possible, including some
that the designers did not foresee. Then you need to make the avera-
ge 'life' pretty mundane, at least in heroic potential. Mundane does
not necessarily equate boring after all. Finally, any story a player
can live through needs to be pretty much unique, and affect a large
number of other players directly or indirectly so that the actions
actually do matter to the game. One of the things this means is that
the staff must give up quite a bit of control over the game world to
the players. If one of them torches the city then it must stay burn-
ed until rebuilt.

With that framework in place you can drop a ring of invisibility in
the lap of one player, and explain that the bad guys are coming for
it and will make the life of everybody in the game a living hell if
they get it...

> We don't see nearly as many games with strong story emphasis,
> either.  Even single-player games seem to be moving in the
> direction of non-channeled playgrounds.

Which makes sense, given the extremely short time in which the game
restores itself to its initial state after the players start wreak-
ing havoc on the population. As it is we equip the players with near
divine powers and then reward them for behaving like a spoilt child
in a candy store...

>> Some concepts translate pertty well. 

> Symbolism in other media is a form of shorthand, a way of evoking
> meaning without exposition.  In these games, the players look
> behind the curtain and often see that the symbol is a cardboard
> cutout.  You can't just invoke a symbol, you have to embody it.

Not really, but the symbolism in muds is generally shallow.  It
works in a story because the symbols work together in invoking a
specific emotion that the author wants. These emotions are what is
driving the reader to continue with the story.  If the emotion is
not there then the book is tossed aside, or perhaps finished once
and then forgotten In muds this does not work because there is no
cohesion to the symbo- lism, and no fixed order.  Part of this comes
that very few muds have good writers who know how to use
symbolism. Usually it is a couple of fantasy cliches thrown
together, and often areas are randomly mixed.  The other reason is
that the player enters the game with the mindset of the
adventurer. They do not invest in emotion but expect action. A
reader on the other hand is passive and invests heavily in the emo-
tions that the story invokes in them.  Symbolism is still a
shorthand here, but one that is used to tell the player what to
expect in a given situation, and so we are really back to the
cliches again.

>> It may be that until we jettison the trappings of roleplaying
>> games, which enforce those mechanisms, online worlds cannot
>> evolve. Yet despite many attempts going back to 1989, we seem to
>> have real trouble doing so.

> I think we'll never entriely ditch them, because if we do people
> can progress only up to the limit of their personal abilities.
> Since only 1 person in 1000 has 1 in a thousand capability, that
> wouldn't deliver empowerment.  Without empowerment, I don't think
> you'll see them *engage*.

But we -are- already seeing them. In UO there are people who do so
much play the -game- as well as play the -society-. It requires no
other mechanisms in the game than the ability to build (both game
structures and societies) things that last.  If you are approachin
this thing as a game then, yes, you will need the roleplaying, or
any other agreed upon concept. If you approach it as a society you
only need a sufficiently rich environment and a certain degree of
control over it.

Yes - at last - You. I Choose you. Out of all the world,
out of all the seeking, I have found you, young sister of
my heart! You are mine and I am yours - and never again
will there be loneliness ...

Rolan Choosing Talia,
Arrows of the Queen, by Mercedes Lackey

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