[MUD-dev] Fun in Games

Ron Gabbard rgabbard at swbell.net
Sat Apr 27 12:46:31 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

From: <Daniel.Harman at barclayscapital.com>
> From: Koster, Raph [mailto:rkoster at soe.sony.com]
>> 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?

>> 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.)

> Ah but what you suggest here aren't on the same scale as the
> worlds that are currently being created. Of course there's more
> detail when you are focused at such a microscopic level. To even
> the playing field, lets rescale your first example to being
> anywhere in the world, in the midst of WW2. Whoops, where do you
> even begin?

> Furthermore, these examples leverage the emotional resonance of
> our recent history and other creative works depicting them. I
> don't have a problem with using this resonance, but when
> fashioning a fantasy world, its not really an available
> resource. Would Schindler's list have worked had it been based on
> the oppression of dwarfs by ogres?  I put it to you that people
> just wouldn't have cared as much, irrespective of directorial
> flair.

> Whilst one can make corrolaries within a game to try and draw some
> of this resonance, it will always be diluted. Sure, you can dress
> the evil guards in SS inspired attire, and one would hope that
> most of the audience would find them scarey even if they can't put
> their finger on why. It is another thing however, to instill the
> despair within a player that they might feel whilst watching a
> film showing the plight of a Jewish prisoner. Even if we can, do
> we really want to?

> How can you relay the suffering of the dwarfs to the players, when
> you can't show them the events directly? Obtuse clues just don't
> cut it.

I agree with you regarding the difficulty of transferring emotional
states to players.  Thus, I've given up on the concept of
predefining 'good' and 'evil' in MUDs as relates to interpersonal
relationships.  They just don't work.

Side Note: Webster's Dictionary defines 'evil' as 'morally bad,
wrong'.  Thus, 'evil' (and by default, 'good') are relative terms
relating to degree of adherence to societal norms and values.  The
problem with MUDs in this context is that the behaviors that break
societal norms (and are thus 'evil') are not permitted in the game
because the code won't allow it or for fear of disciplinary action
by GMs, e.g., kill-stealing, trade fraud, 'training' mobs on people,
etc.  Thus, you have a homogeneous player base with a similar value
system where deviation from that system is not permitted.  The
player cannot perform truly 'evil' acts as long as they are within
the game rules.  A society with no evil can never accurately reflect
the human condition.

I tackled this issue in a design I am currently working on.

Going back through human history, there have been three primary
motivators... "Glory, Gold, and God", i.e., fame, wealth, and
ideals.  Almost any world event/movement can be traced to one or all
of these motivators.  Those events that can't be defined by one or
all of these three are usually attributed to psychopaths or, as in
the case of the just-following-orders concentration camp guards,
people who have yielded their right to make decisions to another.
In either case, I would argue that such behavior is abnormal rather
than reflecting the 'human condition'.

It seems that no matter how compelling the backstory, relying on the
"God" coin to motivate players just ain't gonna work if the player
can realize a higher "Glory" and "Gold" result by acting in ways
inconsistent with the storyline.  SW:The Empire Strikes Back was on
TV the other night and demonstrated this principle well when Darth
Vader asked Luke to join him and rule the universe after their
battle in the Sky City.  Luke decided to reject the offer and end
his life rather than give up his ideals... to do otherwise would be
'evil' for him.

How many players (particularly core gamers) would make the same
decision and give up ultimate power and wealth in the name of
role-playing in a game where there is no 'evil'?



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