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

Bruce Mitchener bruce at puremagic.com
Mon Nov 19 00:22:07 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


Paul Schwanz wrote:

> I'm not entirely sure what you mean here, but I think I agree.

> I tend to believe that the best stories will be the result of
> developer-generated content and context to some degree.  I also
> think that they will include player-generated content.
> Unfortunately, I think that the terms content and context can have
> broad definitions and as a result there has been some talking past
> each other in this thread.  I'll try to explain in a bit more
> detail what I envision.

> I think the game *design* can create quests that arise naturally
> from gameplay.  I'll give an example.

> ... example snipped ...

> If you design it right, you've created caravans and caravan
> routes, which then give us quests for robbing the caravans or
> protecting them.  In reality, you are creating *the potential* for
> quests by your design of the game world.

> Additionally, instead of writing a canned quest, you could create
> powerful, world-impacting items.  Depending upon an item's nature
> and how it functions, a quest could be the natural result.  To me,
> this is the difference between writing Tolkien's "Lord of the
> Rings" trilogy and trying to imbed it as static, canned pieces of
> text throughout the game world, or simply creating the Rings as
> actual in-game items that have the properties of those in
> Tolkien's stories.  Then sit back and see what happens.

> ...

> So is this about developers creating content or context?  I see it
> as the developer creating game content that provides story
> context.  I don't think this is the same thing as the sandbox
> approach.  The developer is doing more than just creating a stage.
> The developer may even have a story in mind or a concept of how
> things could pan out.  He is being very deliberate about creating
> a quest, but he doesn't actually write the story and feed it to
> the players.

This could be looked at in terms of an application of an element of
literary theory/criticism to mud/game design as well.

Quoting from a translation of Umberto Eco's _The Open Work_:

      "To avoid any confusion in terminology, it is important to
      specify that here the defintion of the "open work," despite
      its relevance in formulating a fresh dialectics between the
      work of art and its performer, still requires to be separated
      from other conventional applications of this term.  Aesthetic
      theorists, for example, often have recourse to the notions of
      "completeness" and "openness" in connection with a given work
      of art.  These two expressions refer to a standard situation
      of which we are all aware in our reception of a work of art:
      we see it as the end product of an author's effort to arrange
      a sequence of communicative effects in such a way that each
      individual addressee can refashion the original composition
      devised by the author.  The addressee is bound to enter into
      an interplay of stimulus and response which depends on his
      unique capacity for a sensitive reception of the piece.  In
      this sense the author presents a finished product with the
      intention that this particular composition should be
      appreciated and received in the same form as he devised it.
      ... a road traffic sign, on the other hand, can be viewed in
      only one sense, and, if it is transfigured into some fantastic
      meaning by an imaginative driver, it merely ceases to be
      /that/ particular traffic sign with that particular meaning.
      ...

      None the less, it is obvious that works like those of Berio
      and Stockhausen are "open" in a far more tangible sense.  In
      primitive terms, we can say that they are quire literally
      "unfinished": the author seems to hand them on to the
      performer more of less like the components of a construction
      kit.  He seems to be unconcerned about the manner of their
      eventual deployment.  This is a loose and paradoxical
      interpretation of the phenomenon, ..."

Umberto Eco has written further about the role of the reader in
fiction.  (In a book called _The Role of the Reader_, as well as
_Six Walks in the Fictional Woods_.)  In his formualation of an
"open text", there isn't a single path for the reader to follow (as
in a closed text), but it has been written to allow the reader to
make a series of interpretations and involving the judgement of the
reader in the completion of the work.

One of the reasons given by Eco for the usefulness of an open text
is the ability for the reader to go back and read it again and
again, continually gaining new insights, new interpretations, new
ideas, and new value drawn from the work.

In this way, the idea of an "open text" in contrast to a "closed
text" appears fairly applicable to the analysis and design of MUDs
and the worlds/environments that make them up.  Some traditional
MUDs provided, through mechanics, a fairly rote set of actions and
responses within the environment, providing for little depth and
were largely a means of pulling a player towards predetermined
goals.  More recent and advanced systems are providing for the
capability of an "open environement" wherein the player has much
greater ability to interpret and act upon a rich world, which has
been designed and structured to be an open environment.

How can we can take advantage of the literary theory on the
interpretation of closed vs. open works/texts to aid us in designing
and analyzing closed vs. open environments for our virtual worlds?
What sort of analysis of a game might be done?

Some potential questions:

   * To what extent do we allow the player the latitude within
     the provided content to make interpretative choices that
     affect how they perceive the world, in terms of not only
     the events that they participate in, but also the backstory
     and the events being carried out by other players?

   * How does the imposition of an allowance for interpretation
     by the players change how the GMs or the people ostensibly
     running the game interact with it?  (Comparing this to the
     recent imposition of the plot line on Anarchy Online could
     be interesting.)

   * What role might NPCs play and how might they act out this
     role?

   * When new content is depending on the expenditure of fairly
     expensive resources by the people running the game, is
     the use of content rather than context something that is
     maintainable in the long run?

   * How does this interact with the potential needs and requirements
     for a licensed world/storyline/plot? (For example, if there
     was a game based on the current Star Trek television series,
     and a major plot line devised and maintained by players ran
     afoul of the intentions of the people who run Star Trek's
     television series, how much might this matter or not matter?

   * What other aspects of literary analsyis and theory could
     be useful in analyzing the design of muds?

   - Bruce


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