[MUD-Dev] [DSN] Why Permadeath is Irrelevant

Paul Schwanz paul.schwanz at east.sun.com
Thu Sep 6 09:58:55 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

John Buehler wrote:
> Paul Schwanz writes:

>> But negative consequences (the risks) are only one part of the
>> picture.  Remember there are actually three parts to the gaming
>> experience.  The other two parts are the choices and the positive
>> consequences (the rewards).

> A couple observations:

>   1. The described view of gaming is very achiever-centric.

Admittedly so.  I suppose I tried to allude to this with my
"...those who play MUDs as 'games'..." comment.  Maybe it would have
been more correct to just say 'achievers' and avoid any debates over
what exactly is entailed by a game.  In a sense, perhaps I sometimes
think of killers, socializers, and explorers as playing meta-games,
while the achiever is playing the game.  (Now where did I put that
nomex suit.)  Seriously, I imagine that my own approach to the game
undermines my ability to see it as others do.  I don't mean to give
offense, only my own perspective.

>   2. Players should not be risking their entertainment as a result
>   of normal gameplay.

It is difficult to reconcile this statement with (nearly?) every
arcade game I've ever played.  Your quarter (and therefore your
continued entertainment) is always at risk.  Perhaps you will say
that with arcade games, you haven't lost much, since you haven't
invested much.  While that may be true to an extent, if you don't
have another quarter, you are risking your entertainment.

>   Any choice that a player makes should result in some form of
>   entertainment.  Characters can go through in-context risk for
>   in-context reward, but the whole thing should be entertaining
>   for the player.  This is what the player is paying for.  Having
>   said this, some players like to engage in risk as a form of
>   entertainment, and the recipe of risking access to a game's
>   entertainment (e.g. through permadeath of a character) will work
>   for some players.

And this is really my main point.  The real issue is not that
players can choose to risk permadeath.  As you say, for some players
this is entertaining. (Although I will disagree slightly with the
assessment and say that it is actually the momentous nature of the
choices that many players find entertaining.)  The real issue is
that current online games seem to have a tendency to take from
players what the players are not intending to risk.  This is a
problem that would be exacerbated by the introduction of permadeath,
but it is a problem even with various forms of semi-death...which is
why I (rather audaciously) say that permadeath is irrelevent.

>> 1. Give a wider range of significance to actions, instead of a
>> narrower one.

> I certainly support the idea of a spectrum of outcomes, what you
> call "all kinds of consequences".  Personally, I don't think that
> "consequences" in a game world really matter to anybody.  It's
> when the consequences are applied to the players that they matter.
> And negative player consequences should be eliminated where
> possible.

Are you then saying that games should not matter to the players?  At
all?  I knew you were interested in making them more casual, but
this makes it sound like you are interested in making them
irrelevent.  Is this right?

Perhaps I'm not understanding. It seems to me that you are saying
that only extra-game consequences really matter to the players, but
that there should be no negative extra-game consequences.  To me, if
all extra-game consequences are positive, then they are not really
consequences...they are more akin to give-aways.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with negative extra-game
consequences per se.  I'm interested in keeping the focus of the
consequences in-game because these are role playing games and I'd
rather keep the fiction intact while letting the impact of decisions
filter down through the character to the palyer.  In my mind, these
games could have something to teach players about making wise
decisions, and the developer that spares the rod spoils the player,
to coin a phrase.  (And here I realize that we are perhaps talking
about two different kinds of negative consequences.)

On the other hand, when a player makes a wise decision and still
feels the rod, then we have an issue.  But the rod should not really
be the main focus of the issue, in my mind.

> As an extreme case, consider non-consentual player character
> conflict.  It has negative consequences for players.  If being
> killed by another player character was as inherently entertaining
> as playing the game normally, PKing wouldn't be as offensive.  

Non-consensual player character conflict is exactly what I am
targeting as a symptom of the real issue.  I don't think there is
anything inherently bad about player conflict or the consequences of
that conflict, even when those consequences are quite unpleasant.
It is precisely the non-consensual part that makes it an issue.
Making a choice to risk being killed by another player character can
be very entertaining.  If you lose the conflict, it might not be as
much fun, but it certainly should not be offensive, since you made
the choice, knowing the risks.  Those who don't find such risks
entertaining should have enough predictability and control in their
on-line lives to avoid those types of risks in favor of other risks
that are more to their liking.

How do we give players predictablility and control so that they can
manage their risks?  Now there is an interesting problem worth


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