[MUD-Dev] Re: Black Snow Revisited

holding99 at mindspring.com holding99 at mindspring.com
Thu Apr 4 11:11:34 New Zealand Daylight Time 2002


At 08:46 AM 4/3/2002 -0800, John Buehler wrote:

> Just to set this 'detachment argument' to rest, any data can be
> extracted and reused.  I don't care how arcane the data.  It can
> be reused.  I don't care how arcane the format.  It can be reused.
> This means that a character's data can be extracted from the game
> and placed into another game and the character continues on there.
> This is the same as somebody reverse-engineering Microsoft Word's
> format.  If everyone could get their hands on their character's
> data, it would open the door for a standard character format
> because there would be games that would welcome characters from
> other games - adding to the appeal of that new game.

Just because the data can be extracted and reused does not mean it
retains the same meaning. For example, let's say that someone (say,
Bob) does as you suggests, and reverse engineer's the save file of a
DAoC character. He then creates another game, calls it maybe
Semi-DAoC, that uses the same file format. Now characters can be
imported from DAoC into SDAoC without a problem. Same character,
different context. Is the meaning of the character the same?

My answer? No. Consider the simplest case. Bob's server sucks, and
no one wants to play on it. Then taking the character data from a
well populated server to Bob's server effectively makes that
character pointless. It's not as much fun. Even if Bob's server is
waaaaaayyyyy better than the Mythic servers, transferring the
character data results in a more fun experience; the character's
meaning has once again changed. All I am arguing is that what we
call a "character", or a "sword", or anything else in these games is
more than just a collection of bits. There is also a socially
constructed meaning behind them, which everyone understands (or
comes to understand) within the context of the game. Remove that
context, and the meaning is lost. Change that context, and the
meaning also changes. An example: while a table is a table, a table
in the dining room often carries different meaning from a table in
the bedroom, or even a table in the kitchen. Note that a general
meaning of "table" can be argued (a flat space to hold stuff), such
descriptions usually depend quite heavily on physical
aspects. Virtual items have NO physical aspect[1], and, as such, are
almost completely defined by the contextual meaning. When someone
says, "Hey, this mithril sword sucks compared to that Ubersword of
Doom,"[2] that's contextualized meaning. Say that sentence to
someone off the street, and more likely than not they'll stare at
you blankly for a few minutes, trying to contextualize that
statement (ie, they'll try to figure out what motivated you to say
that). To someone who is familiar with the context of DAoC, the
meaning of that statement is obvious[2]. The meaning of that
sentence is as much entangled in the context of the game as the data
which makes up the character.

> Consider an even simpler example: a renderer.  I get my character
> file from Mythic and turn it over to a third party that has
> reverse-engineered the data so that they can produce a 3D
> raytraced image of my character, which they then sell to me for a
> cost.  That is reuse outside of the game and is predicated only on
> reverse engineering of the character data.

This is an even better example, in a way. I consider a 3D raytraced
image of a character as distinct from the character itself. The
image I can look at, admire, print out, maybe put on a
shirt. However, that image is not equivalent to the character data
that was used to make the image. The character save file also
includes data which determines how the character interacts with both
the game environment (on the server) and other characters (on the
server). While I can extract information from the save game data,
such as an image, or perhaps even statistics on my character and his
stuff (say, hit points, mana points, speed, the damage done by his
sword, the color of his boots, whatever), much of the rest of the
data deals specifically with how that character interacts with the
game world, and is useless without that context. Even if, as I
argued above, another context is substituted, the meaning may not
transfer.

T.H. Cooke

[1] While there is a physical aspect to the data, in terms of
electrical impulses in computers and voltage differentials, it is
very far removed from the meaning ascribed to the data itself. It is
unlikely that any physical description based upon this would be
specific (or concise) enough to be of use in describing the data.

[2] Please excuse my example sentence if it is not appropriate for
DAoC; I don't play that game, and thus have absolutely no
understanding of that context. I merely assert that there is a
context, and perhaps a more suitable example sentence could be found
which better illustrates it.

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