[MUD-dev] Fun in Games

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Fri Apr 26 10:19:45 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

Raph Koster writes:
> From: Sasha Hart

>> Could you please give a hypothetical example (I will not pick on
>> it) of how the human condition could be portrayed well in a game?

> For example, we have many incidents of real drama, emotion, and so
> on brought to the games right now by players. There's no shortage
> of "human condition" in online games. It's just that the games do
> not recognize it happening. The game is by and large oblivious to
> it. And every time that the game has bothered to recognize the
> human activity going on (helping players do their wedding, or
> recognizing that it exists; making the tools for forming a guild
> or a town available; assisting players in the process of mourning;
> etc.)  players have responded extremely powerfully.

> I'd argue that there are many more examples of ordinary human
> activity that we can and should recognize in our games.

> I'd also go further and say that there are situations and
> scenarios that we fail to even consider because we consider them
> outside of the scope of a typical game. Two of my commonest
> examples are radically opposed: an online game set in a
> concentration camp, or an online game where you live the role of a
> woman in colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. Both of these would, I
> think, take players somewhere they have not been emotionally in a
> game before. (And could they be fun? Yes. Though I also worry
> about making the role of concentration camp guard "too" fun. But
> for example, consider that game where you must escape--and the
> game is designed such that a noble sacrifice is almost certainly
> required in order to get out. Being the noble sacrifice may well
> be fun or at least fulfilling for the player.)

> Right now, the ways which we permit players to act on the world
> and have the world actually respond are severely limited. And
> because of this, the range of emotions we generate is pretty
> limited too.

What range of emotions do you want, and why do you want to trigger
emotions in your players?

If you want an emotional response from your player, you better damn
well make sure that it is a positive one for your player.  Just
yanking players' chains in an effort to get them whipped up in
emotional situations is not a healthy way to present entertainment.

Do you want to delight your players?  Do you want them to laugh?  Do
you want them to consider social issues?  Do you want them to learn?

Can you do these things in an interactive medium?  Is a fictional
environment the ideal environment because the behavior of the
players is guaranteed to require suspension of disbelief?  Are the
player characters in a concentration camp going to adhere to the
behavioral norms of a concentration camp?

I'm working up my own design for a virtual environment, and it
involves fairly autonomous characters that the player only directs,
not controls.  I see that model as viable for what you're pursuing
because it ensures that the social context of the characters remains
intact.  And at the same time, the players interact with each other
as players, permitting player community to build.  It's almost a
step away from interactive movies, where people in the theatre get
to nudge characters to do this and that, and the people in the
theatre get to talk about what they're witnessing.  That would seem
a viable model for a concentration camp or Colonial Williamsburg,
rather than the current model of direct control of every action
taken by a character.

As an example, your concentration camp guard can only act like a
concentration camp guard.  The player can encourage it to be a nasty
one or a friendly one, but he can't go willy-nilly wandering through
the camp shooting prisoners for laughs.  The social norms that
governed a concentration camp guard must be enforced, else the
character ceases to be a concentration camp guard.


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