[MUD-Dev] New laws. (was: Player Manipulation of Environment)

Marian Griffith gryphon at iaehv.nl
Wed Nov 28 20:40:36 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


On Mon 26 Nov, Bruce Mitchener wrote:
> Marian Griffith wrote:

>>   1) Muds can't be narratives for the players.  Players "live" in
>>   the game, they participate far more directly than the reader of
>>   a book, or the viewer of a movie. Techniques and strategies
>>   that work for a narrative structure do not work for muds.  This
>>   is a direct result from the "everybody wants to be the hero of
>>   the game" law.

> I disagree with the conclusion that you've stated here.  I think
> that techniques and strategies that work for a narrative structure
> can and should work for muds, both in the sense of them being an
> online world and their providing gameplay experiences.

The key issue is, I think, that there is a difference between the
mud *providing* the story and the mud *being* the story, ane even
that does not exactly express what I mean.  I think that part of the
problem is that we are talking about something new, so that our
words do not accurately describe it. We try to explain it but we can
only interpret it in terms of words that are meaning other things in
more traditional contexts.

> While players "live" in the game, there are a lot of things going
> on around them:

Events going on around the player living in the game are certainly
parts of stories, and may even be part of a narrative (I think those
two are hardly the same).  It is clear that you can tell a story in
a mud. It would be foolish to claim otherwise.  I do not think you
can tell a story with a mud, and certainly not a narrative. Not with
the mud as a whole. My life is not a narrative (or is if it is I
rather not know about it!)  even if I can tell about it, and I can
affect things that I do and react to the things that happen around
me.  It is even possible, though hardly interesting, to tell a story
about my life to somebody else (and thus making a true narrative out
of the story about me).  My life itself, however, can not be
considered a narrative. It just IS.  The same, to a large degree, is
true for the life of the characters on a mud. The match however is
not perfect, and there are a few situations where somebody else has
the ability to shape the events in, even the very nature of. the
game world. The gods in a game world play a much more active role
than the ones in ours.

>    * They see events unfold around them.  A cart passes them on a
>    street.  They may or may not notice this, and if they do, it
>    will be conveyed them in some manner, be it through a visual
>    depiction, a textual description of the appearance of the cart
>    passing, a textual description of the smell of the cart
>    passing, or some thing else.

This really is part of the staging of the game.  It may provide a
bit (or a lot) more depth to the game world, and to the experience
of playing but it is not in itself a vital characteristic of a
narrative.

>    * They may hear a story from someone else, player, GM, or NPC.

This is a narrative, but one that takes place within the context of
the game. It is similar to gathering around a bonfire and tell each
other stories.  Or to sit in front of the tv, and watch the evening
news. It can be a narrative, but it is not outside of the
game. Rather it is inside the game, part of it. Not something im-
posed on it from the outside.

>    * They may wander into a new situation and have to determine
>    what is going on.  You wander into a bar.  Someone is arguing
>    with your friend.  Or are they haggling over the cost of
>    something?

I am not sure, if and in what way, this relates to the subject of
narrative structures as muds.

> To do the above, requires a couple of skills on the part of the
> game, the game content, potentially some players, the GM staff,
> and surely other components:

Certainly.

Let's see.

If I play Myst then I really take part of a narrative. I may have to
perform certain critical actions to allow the story to continue
(that is what makes it a game as opposed to a cartoon movie), but
ultimately there is only a single story that is being told to me,
the player.  The same is true for e.g.  The Longest Journey.  Both
are basicaly narratives. I have no doubt there are also some games
where the decisions the player makes in the first stage of the game
affect the possibilities of the rest of the game.  I.e.  there is
more than one path to take through the story. However it is still a
story being told to the player.  I think this is what people mean
when they talk about interactive games?  I would give an example if
I knew of one, but I would argue that both are narratives underneath
the trappings of being a game and being a particular genre of game.
For muds this kind of structure will not work, and that is what the
law I proposed attempts to say.

>    * Provide a definition of a character or an object within the
>    environment.  This would include providing the relevant and
>    necessary information to convey plot information, an
>    appropriate mental model for the user, as well as some form of
>    visual or textual representation.

This is important for a narrative, but something that will not
readily work on a mud.  Not the representation part, but the plot
information. Plots can not cover the entirity of the players over
the entirity of the mud's existence, unlike single player games.

>    * Provide a context for actions that are going on.  This could
>    include the auditory cues, the visible environment, lighting
>    levels, among other things.  * In some cases, provide a greater
>    context for the actions that are going on.  In the case of a
>    large hunt, or a quest of some sort, this would potentially be
>    through some sort of storytelling.

These are essentially stage effects.  While they convey meaning and
even clues to the reader/viewer, their importance is less obvious
for muds.

>    * A progression through time and through events, with the world
>    changing around the characters.

This, I think, is one of the points where the narrative structure
breaks down for muds.  In two ways. As a whole muds must not have a
progression. Quite the contrary, they must be a stagnant as can be
possibly achieved. Otherwise the replayability will suffer and that
is what makes money for these games(*).  The second reason why
progression of events will not work for a mud is that it depends on
a gradual disclosure of information. In other words the player(s)
must work their way through the layers that the narrative puts
around the key events and learn every bit of information in the
right order to enjoy the story. This clearly is unfeasible for a
mud, unless you wish to run the story only once, but that in itself
creates problems and is basically not a good approach for a mud.

(* This was intentionally exagerated to make the point more clear In
general it is safe to say that change in a mud is dangerous because
it upsets the game balance.)

> In a 1966 essay, _Cinema and the Novel, Problems of Narrative_,
> Italo Calvino had written:

>      "Let us say, then, that what the cinema has that is
>      completely cinematographic ought not to be matched against
>      its literary ancestors.  From that standpoint, cinema and the
>      novel have nothing to teach other and nothing to learn from
>      each other."

> In saying that, he was referring to things like the use of the
> camera: focusing on someone face, doing a wide panoramic shot,
> exploiting a sequence of music.  Later, he says:

>      "The cinema's love affair with the traditional novel has
>      bestowed upon it several inventions that immediately became
>      commonplaces, such as the off-screen voice to render the
>      first person singual, the flashback to represent the past,
>      the fade-out to convey the passage of time, and so on."

> Further,

>      "The challenge of the written word continues to be one of the
>      chief motive forces of invention in the cinema, but -a thing
>      that never happened in the past -literature has begun to
>      function as a model of freedom.  The cinema of today employs
>      a wealth of ways to tell a story.  It can make a reminiscence
>      film, a diary film, a self-analysis film, a nouveau-roman
>      film, a lyric-poem film, and so on.  All this is new for the
>      cinema, though less so for literature."

> Despite the separation between cinema and the novel, there was
> still much for cinema to learn from the novel.  Similarly, judging
> from the barest collection of things that I'd listed above, it
> would appear that there is much to be studied, examined and
> probably borrowed from the fields of literature, storytelling, and
> semiotics to enhance our ability to present content, actions in
> the world and assist in providing meaning and greater depth (but
> without a lot of meaningless, excess detail hopefully).

I certainly agree that it is possible, even eminently desirable to
learn how to *stage* narratives in a mud. It is a medium as unique
in its own right and as different from the novel as the cinema is.
The law that I was stating is not nearly as ambitious (not to say
rash) as to claim that you can not tell a story in a mud.  That
still does not mean that the mud can be a story.  Myst would not
make a good mud, and not because it lacks conflict.  Narratives are,
by their nature, about slowly building up of tension, gradual
disclosure of crucial information.  About "teasing" the audience, so
to speak. In muds there is no audience, only the actors and the
narrator has little to no ways to control the flow of information,
or the flow of the actions. With hundreds or even thousands of
actors you have not only a logistical nightmare to tell the story,
you also have a situation where each player does not have the proper
distance to the events to "grasp" what is going on with the story.
For a narrative to work there has to be a certain distance between
events and audience, even if the outcome of the events is of great
importance to them.  The audience needs to be able to reflect on the
story as it is told, so techniques like character development,
creating sympathy or antipathy, disclosure and building tension can
work.  Being the subject of the story, you are involved, possibly
with the exclusion of all else, in survival. While that can make for
a very engaging (or terrifying) experience, it is not a good
situation for a narrative.  You certainly can not build a mud that
is focused on a single story.

Marian
--
Yes - at last - You. I Choose you. Out of all the world,
out of all the seeking, I have found you, young sister of
my heart! You are mine and I am yours - and never again
will there be loneliness ...

Rolan Choosing Talia,
Arrows of the Queen, by Mercedes Lackey

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