[MUD-Dev] Expectations of in-game reality

Travis Casey efindel at earthlink.net
Fri Oct 26 12:49:41 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

Monday, October 22, 2001, 6:11:38 PM, Matt Mihaly wrote:
> On Mon, 22 Oct 2001, Paul Schwanz wrote:

>> On the other hand, these are prominent among my goals in a MUD.
>> And I find that every time I am presented with a situation in a
>> MUD that can only be explained or understood as a "game rule," it
>> is an unwelcome reminder that I am only playing a game.

> Sure, having different goals for entertainment in different games
> makes sense. How do you deal, psychologically, with the fact that
> fire-breathing dragons exist? I mean, they are only explainable as
> a game rule, unless you want to say "magic". Of course, respawning
> mobs can be the result of "magic" too. I've never seen a magic
> 'system' that didn't boil down to just arbitrariness.

Well, if you want to think about it deeply, *everything* boils down
to just arbitrariness.  Why does gravity attract instead of
repelling?  Why is it that gravitational mass and inertial mass are
always the same?  Why does the perceivable universe have three
spacial dimensions, instead of some other number?  Why is the speed
of light in a vacuum not something else?  And so on, and so on.

("We've measured it to be that" isn't the answer here -- the
question is why is it that, not why do we believe it to be that.)

You can say "because God made it that way", but that just pushes the
question back another level -- why did God make it that way?  You
can say, "a different combination of physical constants might not
have resulted in a universe with life in it, or any universe at
all", but there's no way to really test that, especially for small

So, of *course* a magic system is arbitrary.  Even if you try to
select a set of "laws of magic" and work from them, the laws you
select and their interactions are arbitrary.

> So why are all of us (including myself) willing to accept
> fire-breathing dragons more quickly than respawning mobs as 'real'
> within the fiction of the world? Is it because fire-breathing
> dragons have a long tradition of being an element of 'fantasy'
> worlds?

That's one reason.  Another reason, as someone else pointed out, is
internal consistency -- no one is ever actually seems to die
permanently, but there are graveyards, undead, and so on.

> What about other, even more improbably things, not found in normal
> 'fantasy' worlds. For instance, Achaea has 'humgiis' that serve as
> garbage cans. They're cute little creatures that can eat anything,
> of any size. It makes no sense at all that something the size of a
> small dog (even with its big mouth) would eat, say, the corpse of
> an elephant. Yet, I've seen 'em do it, with my very own eyes, and
> didn't have any problem believing it.

Does the size have anything to do with how long it takes?  My first
thought, on reading this, is "if it can eat the corpse of an
elephant quickly, why doesn't it eat sleeping people?"

> Anyway, I don't have time to think about it right now, but I'd be
> interested in hearing opinions as to why something like the humgii
> is believable yet something like mob-respawning is not. There's
> some perceived (it's not really a real distinction either, as both
> are ridiculous if thought of in context of the physical world)
> distinction between the two, and I can't put my finger any closer
> than, "I know it when I see it." (which is utterly unsatisfying).

There are a couple of things that come to mind:

1.  Realism depends on the reality you're modeling.  A fantasy game
    is trying to model a *fantasy* world, not the real world.  Thus,
    within the context of a fantasy game, the existence of dragons,
    unicorns, magic, etc. does not violate reality.

2.  Internal consistency is very important.  If long-distance
    teleportation is cheap and easy for players, but imported goods
    cost a lot more than they do at their point of origin, that's
    going to bother people.  If trash simply disappears for no
    apparent reason, and there's no in-world explanation given,
    that's going to bother people.

3.  People recognize that the game is just a game, and sometimes
    it's more convenient to take shortcuts.  Because of this, people
    are willing to "fill in the blanks", or say, "oh, they're just
    simplifying that" internally.  For example, with the humgiis,
    players who see, "The humgii eats the elephant corpse" may
    internally realize that it can't eat an elephant that quickly,
    but simply rationalize it as the sort of time compression that
    happens in muds all over -- for example, it's also not realistic
    to pick a decent lock in a few seconds, but that happens all the
    time too.

4.  Sometimes, people just don't care.  People care a lot more about
    things that affect them.  If humgiis eat corpses that have been
    lying around for a while, no one's likely to really care about it.
    If, on the other hand, humgiis were to start eating PCs in one
    swallow, you'd probably hear a lot more omplaints about it being
    unrealistic.  :-)

Travis Casey
efindel at earthlink.net

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