[MUD-Dev] Is difficult communication the barrier to community in MMORPGs? (fwd)

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Fri Jun 14 19:46:06 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

Patricia Pizer writes:

> The interesting twist to using voice in an MMORPG is that it can
> not only break immersion but shatter it completely. Imagine, if
> you will, the 12-yr-old Ogre saying, "Fear my l33t skills!" It
> really doesn't maintain any fiction about who the player actually
> is.

> Oddly, humans can consistently tell a great deal about a speaker
> from voice.  These include age, race, relative size; cross-gender
> play is academic at that point. (BTW, this is from academic
> research, not my fanciful imagination.)

> I've tried voice and it's very strange to hear someone's kids in
> the background when you're trying to be "in character." Real life
> intrudes in a way well beyond OOC comments.

Player speaks as player: internet telephony technology.  The player
speaks as a human being talking to other human beings.  The voice
carries through the internet according to the game's social
structure for players - which is unrelated to the rules that govern
character communication.  So if you want to talk to your friends
while you play, you do it as a player.  If you're a 12 year old boy,
you sound like a 12 year old boy.

Player speaks as character: speech to text, text to speech.  The
player speaks as a character talking to other characters.  The
speech of the player is converted to text, retaining inflection and
volume as possible.  That voice-text carries through the virtual
world according to the game's physical rules - which are unrelated
to the rules that govern player communication.  The game then
determines what characters should be able to hear the voice and
transmits the text to the appropriate client machines.  Those client
machines then uses text to speech technology to render the voice
appropriate to the perceptions of the player's character.  So if the
12 year old boy wants his character (an ogre) to say "Fear my leet
skills!", he says it, it is processed and anyone with a character
near the ogre hears an ogre's voice saying "Fear my leet skills!".
That's assuming that the character can understand what the ogre is
saying.  If not, the players hear "Groggl sookis barg" or some such
thing - a gibberish transformation performed by the server.

It's important that we understand that we need to separate player
from character when it comes to communication in games.  Character
conversation is a vehicle for entertainment in the game environment,
just as killing monsters or building castles is.  Player
conversation is the socialization that keeps players coming back to
the game because most of the interesting conversations take place at
that level.  In any case, the rules that govern propagation of
player speech versus character speech can be wildly different.
Further, it's a conscious decision on the part of the d00ds to
inject 'idiot speak' into the game or to restrict it to talk to
their friends.

I assume that once player communities form, most players will spend
their time talking to each other as players and not as characters.
I know that many players will probably choose to remain 'just
characters' in such an environment, despite its shortcomings.  I
wonder how much more appeal the game will have to other types of
players if communication were restructured along these lines.

Personally, if I'm playing with a 12 year old boy in my group, I'm
going to behave differently than if I'm playing with a 35 year old
man in it.  I expect different things from each and I'll ask for
them in different ways from each.


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