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

Ted L. Chen tedlchen at yahoo.com
Wed Jun 19 01:59:50 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

Damion Schubert writes to JB:
> From: John Buehler

>> Criminy people.  If I can't type quickly, I can't communicate in
>> these games.  If I can't spell, I'm toast.  If I can't come up
>> with clear ways of writing what's on my mind, I never get a full
>> statement out.

> I was a pretty hardcore Quake Capture the Flag player for a while.
> We actually experimented with voice technology, and my brother and
> I would try to play with headsets over the real-life telephone.
> Fascinatingly enough, we abandoned these in favor of the built-in
> 'comms' (press a button in order to say a canned catchphrase like
> "Defend the flag!").  The primary reason?  It was easier to press
> a button than to get a word in edgewise.  The button could spit
> out text AS WELL AS an audial message, so if people missed my
> comm, they could still retrieve the message.  No thinking of the
> right thing to say while under fire.  Audio messages could be
> queued, ensuring all are hearable.  And perhaps most notably,
> audio in Quake is a big deal.  You use audio to hear enemies
> around corners.  We found that turning down our audio enough so
> that we could hear each other over the headset was dramatically
> reducing our in-game ability.

This is quite interesting.  As a Quaker, I have had different
experiences with the in-game audio messages and with real-life chat.
For the later, my friend and I were luckily able to play regularly
in the same room and we always had better experiences doing so.

Going out on a limb here, I think the difference in opinion, aside
from personal preferences, could stem from something John pointed
out earlier in this thread about positional cues.  That is, your
experiences with live-chat was over the telephone, which pretty much
makes the conversation a 'voice from god' which gets rather
distracting at times.  While positional cues give us a means of
identification and alleviates the voice of god syndrome, I think in
real life, they also provide some hidden information.  Altogether,
having a person next to you allows for several things:

  posture - whether the receieve is in an attentive state as
            oppose to busy.  And also how long that attentive
            state may last.
  volume  - people tend to yell into phones/mics when they're
            not sure of the recievers posture.  Knowing the
            posture allows the talker to adjust the volume
            of the message.
  identification - who is talking (in a multiple participant
            scenario) is the most apparent information this

These of course, bring in some technical challenges for anyone
wishing to incorporate speech into MUDs.  Chiefly of which is the
problem of portraying's someone's posture.

When we lack posture cues, I think clearly identifiable audio
symbols (chimes, standard audio chat, etc) provide a system that
makes up for a lack of that information.  For instance, in Quake,
I'm sure you can realize what audio message is being played before
it even finishes.  So it actually is structured to provide an
almost-instant recognition of meaning.  Tailoring your communication
to short bursts is the safest assumption and is used widely from by
Boeing 747 pilots to the hamburger guy at McD's.  The fact that
these short bursts are semantic instead of just chimes is more of a
learning-curve issue than one of communicating ideas.

And I think the fact that having to "think of the right thing to
say" over the comm channel is indicative of how limiting phones and
'just mics' are as a communication channel is.  In real life, you
have other non-verbal cues to judge whether someone understands your
utterance: nods, eye gaze, etc.  You can use this to determine
whether your original message was sufficient or whether you need to
follow up with something more verbose.

So now I'm slowly comming to the conclusion that there definately
needs to be something more than just attaching a sound source to a
sign post and calling it our avatar.  ;)


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