[MUD-Dev] RE:

Jeff Cole jeff.cole at mindspring.com
Wed Nov 7 18:06:18 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


From: "Joe Andrieu" <jandrieu at caltech.edu>
> From: Jeff Cole <jeff.cole at mindspring.com>

> What's perhaps more true is that violence is natural. Not
> enlightened perhaps, but natural. People understand it at a deep,
> primal level. It is so deeply connected with our reflexes that it
> takes years of socialization to turn humans into civilized people.

Please read my post again.  Let me be clear: violence is natural,
but in nature, violence is rarely (if ever) a prime mover.  It is a
response to some other impetus.  I never claimed that it was in some
way unnatural; I argued that it was not a prime mover and that it is
a common mistake to extend violence as a "natural" (your word and
one with which I am not entirely comfortable) building block of
human behaviour while ignoring the fact that violence is, by design,
the only behaviour by which a player can advance their character.
That is to say, that violence is a building block because developers
design violence as a building block and not because violence is a
prime mover of human behaviour.

I also disagree with your assertion that people understand violence
on a "deep, primal level."  Perhaps you are just being careless with
language.  I would argue that, as a species, we do not understand
violence except in cases where the violence is a response to deep,
primal stimuli (defense of self or close relation from threat
imminent great bodily harm or death).  Though I love a good
philosophical debate on violence, this list is not the place for
one. Heh.

>> 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.

> Ah hah!  It seems we have a fundamental disagreement here. IMO,
> there is much to be said for the paradigmatic view that "Context
> is the content", to revise McLuhan.

Though I might not have been clear, you misunderstand me.  I do not
consider content equivalent to context.  Indeed, I argue it is a
mistake to equate them.

For MM*'s, developers should be loathe to provide context beyond the
milieu and underlying game physics.  Ongoing context should be
limited to subtle pressures exerted on gameplay (i.e. economic
pressures, MOB migrations, spawn/drop rates, experience
distributions, etc.).  At the same time, developers should supply
quite a bit of content (i.e. MOB types, items, and most importantly,
options).

To the extent that a developer allows the players the freedom to
create context through the disposition of the content, the gaming
experience will be likewise more immersive.  Similarly, given
persistence and MM* (PerMM*?), the more context or "story"
developers impose on the population, the less immersive the gaming
experience.  [Note: the second statement is oversimplified for the
sake of argument, but the sentiment is sound.]

> Sure, you can make toys which are fun without context (Lincoln
> Logs, Erector sets, etc.) Even games (Chess, Go, etc.)  But we
> have seen time and again that generally, the richer the context,
> the better the game.  See Myst--Zork on contextual amphetamines or
> the classic Civilization which just keeps adding more and more
> context.  Look at the Sims. Simple game engine, really rich
> context.

> Even in those games which espouse the design paradigm you advocate
> here, there is incredibly rich context.  In fact, maybe you really
> mean content here...  

That none of those games qualify as PerMM*, demonstrates the degree
to which the single-player design paradigm permeates your analysis.
Conceding for the moment that I have espoused a paradigm sufficient
to analyze, it should be obvious that such paradigm applies to
PerMM* design.

> Whichever you mean, as long as you are restraining your design to
> a Game, then feel free to focus on tools and allow users to build
> their own content/context. That's a fine paradigm. Makes good
> games. Makes for entertaining products.

> But don't think that the limits of this paradigm make sense when
> considering the entirety of interactive entertainment.

I am not addressing the entirety of interactive entertainment.  I am
addressing games that are PerMM*.  It seems from your post that you
are far more interested in interactivity with the game itself rather
than interactivity among concurrent players.  While selfish, it is
in no way unreasonable.  However, it is also does not apply to my
argument.

> IMNSHO, there is a phenomenal opportunity in interactive
> entertainment which has never been possible in any other
> medium. For the first time, the media format is capable of
> dynamically generating first-person story experiences for members
> of the audience, where players get to be the hero in their own
> adventure, unfolding through the nature exploration of the
> environment and driven by their own motivations, curiosity, and
> emotional needs.

Everything you just described can be better implemented in a
single-player game.  In a PerMM*, developers cannot provide for
every player playing the hero because context is necessarily
dependent upon the actions of others.

> In other words, we have the opportunity to transform a free-form
> interaction into a well-formed story arc with all the emotional
> engagement of classic drama.

This is impossible given a PerMM* of any size and population.  It
cannot be well-formed if only you consider the differences in
time-played for players.  It cannot be a single story for many of
the same reasons.

> It is true that no one has done this successfully yet.  But it is,
> IMO, a worthy goal...  Simply asserting that it is not the
> designers responsibility to do so limits the perspective on what
> we create.

Not so.  I argue that developers should provide players the tools
(i.e.  "content") to develop their stories ingame.

> Players don't really want to create their own stories. They want
> to live them.  When was the last time your average player sat down
> and crafted their own story from start to finish. As a short prose
> story? As a play? A home video movie?  Shockwave? Anything?

> People prefer buying the works of professional storytellers for
> the same reason they like to buy clothes designed and manufactured
> by professionals.

> Generally, the quality is much higher than what we would produce
> ourselves.

> Yes, there are players who are motivated enough to dive into a MUD
> and create their whole life story just so they can have rich
> interactions with their friends.  But that population is small
> compared to the mainstream market for consumer entertainment.

> I could not disagree more. Respectfully, so, but strongly. Players
> rarely have the first clue about how to develop stories. Current
> hobbyist players are willing to go to great lengths, but the
> average Joe will not.  Are you aware of the % of buyers of the
> Sims ever actually uploaded a full story?  (hint: it's not a lot).

Again, you misunderstand.  I argue that developers should provide
players the freedom to let the stories develop through playing the
game.  Players always have a much better intuitive grasp on gameplay
(economics, physics, etc.) than the developers.  By providing
players with strong contextual foundation (game physics) and freedom
to explore the gamespace (not just the environmental "space," but
also the feature "space"), players will necessarily have the
opportunity to enjoy and participate in a much more immersive gaming
experience.

The condescending attitude that somehow (beyond providing the
gamespace) the PerMM* developers, rather than other players, are
better suited to entertain is rather shocking.  Were I given to
hyperbole, I would invoke Hybris, Ate and Nemesis.

Jeff Cole

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