[MUD-Dev] RE: player-driven content?

Sasha Hart Sasha.Hart at directory.reed.edu
Fri Nov 9 13:04:51 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

Rayzam wrote:

> What happens if the only entertainment comes from the players? If
> it's a good group, it could be good, but there's a regression to
> the mean [the law of averages is hard to beat, second only to the
> law of gravity ;)]. Those with more ability to create the backdrop
> for the entertainment will, hopefully, rise to the position.

>   Boffo - 'So I walk along and find a vorpal sword!'

>   Bob - 'While you do that, I look behind the bush and find
>     chainmail of invulnerability'

>   Or Boffo and Bob: 'I slay the dragon and save the damsel.' 'No
>   way, man!  I slay the dragon and save the damsel!'

Correct me if this is not a reasonable summary:

  - There needs to be a story for the players to see/play.  (In this
  sort of game.)

  - There are a bunch of different ways of delegating the work of
  creating the story out to different people (slicing up the pie,
  delegating authority.) This is important first because it's a ton
  of work, and second because some determination of what happens is
  how you play this game (vs. spectating).

  - If too many players get too much scope over the content of the
  story, there is likely to be competition over what happens and the
  story will probably lose coherence.

  - Given that we need to make a story and that mechanics can't do
  all of the job, and the above about players given too much scope,
  and given that we can conceivably get someone competent for the
  job, it makes more sense to set someone up to distribute scope
  and, if conflict arises, fix it (by fiat or otherwise.)

I agree that this is probably how a story-game, where people just
say what happens, works. And you present a very good argument within
these story-games for some kind of limitation of the player's scope
in saying what happens.

But the image I have of "player-driven content" is not one where
players are given enhanced editorial scope over the narrative
itself, but rather one of a game in which player's moves create
"eddies" which in turn provide reactive content for themselves and
other players.

The focus is on the system which mediates between game "moves" and
their narrative-like consequences rather than a direct focus on the
narrative as itself.  Admittedly, the line is not always very
sharp. I think that it is at least an interesting goal to make the
two converge utterly.  Is this possible? Well, who knows, but past
efforts along similar lines have turned out to be pretty
interesting. At any rate, I do think that

> Is it necessary to make the entire plot/story? No. However,
> setting up mechanics and rules, envisioning the system, balancing
> it, making it fair, i.e. providing content and context, is
> required. These are often not spontaneously created by the
> players.

What's interesting is that these mechanics aren't generally set up
along the lines of players having scope over what happens _in a
story_ so much as _in the game_. This is probably contentious, but I
think it is clear that there *are* games which are unselfconscious
about their story interpretations even if they are creating stories
(of whatever quality) as a consequence of the mechanics. And somehow
this seems more appealing to me than a sort of elaborate platform
for group storytelling.

Although the latter is what I end up playing and is easily doable,
the former is more ambitious and worth aiming for, as long as you
remember that the point isn't to be a story per se (much like chess
games would make poor stories, but their background and the names of
the pieces may be a point of interest - in this case the atmosphere
is played up and the game down but I think it is a more accurate
analogy than the group-storytelling one.)

> There seems to have been a movement towards
> 'players-drive-content' across multiple postings. While
> player-driven content is an important component for a better game,
> I doubt it is sufficient, for all types of games [emphasis on
> all].  That is, it is not a holy-grail for the next generation of
> games.

I agree that designers serve a necessary function in designing
games.  I think that the issue of player-driven content, at least
the one I'm interested in, is orthogonal to whether or not designers
are necessary - in order for players to drive content without
problems popping up. You almost certainly need a designer of some
kind to make the system that generates the eddies.

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