[MUD-Dev] RE:

Jeff Cole jeff.cole at mindspring.com
Sun Nov 4 11:01:23 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


On Wednesday, October 31, Marian Griffith wrote:
> On Sun 28 Oct, Koster, Raph wrote:

>> Seriously, though, practically any form of entertainment is about
>> sex and violence, if you want to look at basic building
>> blocks. It's just they are contextualized into love, yearning,
>> jealousy, pride, coming of age, patriotism, whatever.

> I do not agree with you.  Not that you are wrong, exactly, but it
> is just that your statement is too general.  I think we had this
> dis- cussion here a while back, that there are only 3, or 9 or 17
> stories that can be told, and everything else is just a variation
> thereon.  Even if you want to argue that it is true, it is hardly
> relevant as it lumps far too many things together. More accurate
> would be to say that sex, and to a lesser extent violence (though
> you would not say so from the movies hollywood produces), are the
> driving force of hu- man behavior.

I find this exchange is very interesting.  Marian is correct that
Raph's statement is too general to be useful, but Marian and Raph's
arguments both betray a common misunderstanding: that while Sex is a
driving force of human nature, violence is not.  Indeed, the
stronger argument is that human behavior is the driving force of
violence.  The distinction is important and not semantic.

That Sex, the desire to reproduce, is a prime mover of human
behavior is obvious insofar as one subscribes to the theory of
evolution.  We refer to one's "sex-drive" and our bodies undergo
drastic physical, chemical and emotional changes in order to
accommodate this drive throughout our lives.

The same is not true of violence.  In nature, violence is rarely a
prime mover and almost always a response to some other urge or
appetite.  Even for humans, what appears on the surface to be
violence for violence's sake is arguably violence motivated by more
complex appetites.

The distinction is important because it speaks directly to design.

A simple /tell or /send implementation provides all the
infrastructure necessary for Sex to emerge in the game.  These
mechanisms are not implemented specifically for Sex, but rather, to
facilitate player communication within the game.  Sex (and, too a
much greater extent Friendship) directly motivates a player's
actions in-game.

In most (all?) games, though, violence is the only
designer-sanctioned behavior through which a player can advance
their avatar and acquire.  Violence is not behavior that emerges
from a simple ruleset, but rather the primary method of interacting
with the game environment and other players.  Consider the problem
that extending violence from PvE to PvP presents.  A successful
system of interaction (PvE) does not directly extend to PvP.  It is
a problem of measuring motive or intent.  With PvE, the intent is
easy to identify (to get experience and loot) with PvP, the range of
intent explodes.  The difficulty is in developing a quantitative
measure of intent such that the designer can meaningfully
encourage/discourage behavior over the range of intent.  Violence
per se is not the end, but the only available means by which a
player can accomplish their end.  Violence is a "building block"
only to the extent that it is the only means that designers provide
for players to accomplish their goals.

(Note: I am struck, this weekend, by the degree to which these
considerations track with the issues with which my Criminal Law
class grapples.  That is to say, intent as a measure of
culpability.)

>> While we're bemoaning the lack of maturity in the field, we need
>> not to miuss the forest for the trees. It's not too much sex and
>> violence that is the problem. It's that it's SHALLOW sex and
>> violence. This is why we decry casual PKing, why we snicker at
>> puerile tinysex logs. And why we get excited to hear of the
>> possibility for meaningful PvP or get defensive about the
>> "reality" of online relationships.

> This is very true. The point is that most games are about violence
> without (much) context. That does not mean there is no back story,
> but there simply is no context.  The whole focus of the game is to
> go out and "kill" things. Everything in sight, actually.  There is
> no justification, no explanation, no clue why you should do this.

But there is justification (experience, loot, advancing one's
character) and in some cases explanation (quest NPC).  The problem
is that the justifications and explanations are shallow and lazily
implemented.  Earlier, Marian observed:

> In general it is the contextualisation that -makes- the story,
> because it gives the underly- ing forces meaning and direction ...

That is a tasty nugget, that one.

To compare, vis-a-vis entertainment, such games to a book or a movie
yields no useful insight.  Such games need to be compared to a range
of books and/or range of movies.  It seems that the argument here
(and industry-wide belief in general) is that designers should
provide more context and therefore more story.

I disagree.  Or, more accurately, I disagree that it is the
designer's responsibility to directly supply context.  To directly
supply context limits the depth of the context and story.  It is the
designer's responsibility to provide the tools by which players can
create context and story.

> It is, in fact, worse than the worst horror B-movie, which does at
> least justify showing nudity and violence with a very thin veneer
> of reactionary morals.  In short, games have no story.

To the extent that such games are multiplayer, the question is
should they have inherent story?  Again, I argue it is the
designer's responsibility to provide the players the tools to create
their own rich stories with depth; it is the designer's
responsibility not to limit unreasonably limit players' ability to
develop such stories.

Books and movies are largely passive entertainment.  The active
participation is really between people discussing such
entertainment.  At that point, the active participation is less
about the specific book or movie and more about the group discussing
the same.

>> If we want to go on a crusade to fix something, how about we fix
>> the fact that your average cartoon does a better job at
>> portraying the human condition than our games do?

> The problem, as I see it, is that online games have no story to
> tell. Therefor they can not offer context or meaning, only facades
> They look impressive at first, but soon you start to notice there
> is no substance behind it.  Perhaps Skotos is taking a small step
> in the right direction by offering an elaborate stage, but no
> content, other than that the storytellers are producing.

Bingo!  Why is that a small step?  I think this is a rather
important realization.  That Marian would consider it a small step
speaks to the extent that the traditional groupthink is ingrained in
the approach to development.

> Of course this relies on story tellers (or in the absence thereof,
> on the players entertaining themselves by dreaming up conflicts
> and romances).

The players are the best-suited to develop stories.  The dogged
determination to apply singleplayer game development approaches to
multiplayer games continues to hinder the development of truly
immersive gaming experiences.

Jeff

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