[MUD-Dev] Building a \\\'Deeper\\\' MMOG

Marian Griffith gryphon at iaehv.nl
Thu Jun 27 20:15:51 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

On Fri 21 Jun, Ron Gabbard wrote:

> Hehe... color me stupid.  I don't understand how roleplaying can
> be the center.  I would think that, by definition, roleplaying
> would require a 'role' and that this 'role' would have to be in
> context to something.

There are plenty of mushes around that have neither firm theme nor
any other form of interaction encoded into the game, so yes it is
certainly possible to have a game where roleplaying itself is the

There are even more games where there is a strong theme, but that
theme does not control the roleplaying.  It is the reason of being
for that particular game, and it provides story hooks for the
players, but it does not dominate the gameplay itself in the way you
seem to be implying.

E.g. Pernmush, this has a strong theme of course, but the meaning of
the game is to 'be' a person living on the planet of Pern, not to
fight Thread, or to be a hero, or replaying events from the novels,
just being a person on that world.  I do not think you could
honestly claim that the context takes the center here.

> I can see how the theme can be dominant but only so far as the
> players can interact with it and that interaction with the theme
> can provide a role that the player can buy into.  The trick is
> then to keep the interaction aspect (combat in most games) from
> becoming more important than the theme itself.

It is not that difficult really.  Just take away levels, and other
obvious degrees by which achievement can be measured. Players will
find their own ways to 'compete' but they will find a multitude of
ways, and the game will be more varied because of that.

> I will agree with you on that part... roleplaying is truly a very
> small part of MMORPGs and will probably become smaller as the
> number of people entering the genre increasingly have backgrounds
> in CRPGs and FPSs vs. D&D and other pencil and paper games.

By a fairly common definition both Quake and Dungeons and Dragons
are roll playing, or achievement oriented. This is especially true
in online games, where the incentive to act out a role is mostly
absent.  Games are a matter of preference, and currently there is
only one kind of preference catered for in the large scale online
games. All games are combat and achievement centered. Ultima Online
is somewhat of an exception, but that too requires the players to
first climb the achievement ladder before she can look to other more
roleplaying oriented activities.  I am not that familiar with the
Sims to know how roleplaying oriented it is, but it seems to me that
by its very nature it is remote from the player, which more or less
kills roleplaying opportunities.  We will have to see how Never
Winter Nights does when it finally comes out, as that is seeking to
recreate the feeling of pen and paper roleplaying games online.  The
same is true for Star Wars Galaxies, though from what I have seen
and heared that too focusses primarily on achievement and only
afterwards would allow other playing styles.

> This kind of begs the question... is reliance on players
> roleplaying to drive and/or follow the theme feasible in a MMOG of
> 100,000 players?

Yes, and in fact more so than on smaller games. The simple reason
being that with that much players the number of players tired of
climbing the achievement ladder, but not yet willing to leave the
game because of their friends, is that much larger. Those players
will seek and find other ways to express themselves in the game,
unless it is badly written, which mostly would prevent it from
getting that big in the first place.

> I think the player's and the character's best self interest would
> need to be the same.

Not at all. I have RPed characters who did all kind of things not in
my self interest, and sometimes not in the interest of that
character either.  Those two are not at all the same.  That is if
you really take on the role of that character.  If I am roleplaying
an incurably curious character I would make her check out the
strange noise, even if I as a player already know it is a monster
lurking around the corner.  The character knows it is not smart, but
would not be able to resist her curiosity to find out what it is
that makes that funny noise. I as a player know that it is very much
not in the best interest of the character to do this, and that it
might lead to the character dying because of it.

> The basic assumption in economics is that all people are
> 'rational' in that they will act in their own best self interest.

That is the assumption, but it also has been shown that this is not
necessarily true under all circumstances. People can and will
frequently act against their self interest, or they define their
self interest in much broader terms than economics.  In any given
situation they will have many choices. e.g. are they going to
optimise their immediate gain, or are they looking for a long term
advantage, or are they applying entirely different criteria? E.g.
there are many brands of washing powder which are rougly of the same
quality.  Do people always pick the cheapest, which would be the
rational thing to do?  Not remotely, which shows that saying people
act in their own best self-interest is meaningless if you can not
tell what that self interest would be.

> I don't think expecting players to act 'irrationally' is
> necessarily the best path because it's not sustainable.  People
> will eventually return to rationality.  Theoretically, I can see
> how a non-quantitative reward system could be developed to define
> the character's best self interest without being
> 'achievement-oriented'.  But would it provide sufficient feedback
> to the player to keep them motivated without providing so much
> feedback that it just becomes another 'achievement' ladder?

Except that players can look for less substantial rewards, like
hanging out with friends, or entertaining oneself.  Pernmush does
not have any reward system at all.  Players gain nothing by playing,
in an economic sense, but in their own opinion they gain a lot, just
as somebody reading a book, or eating a chocolate bar, or watching a
movie gains something that can not be expressed by economics.
However, I am very much afraid that this is somthing that you either
'get' or 'do not get', without putting any quali- fications on that.
The reward of roleplaying is the roleplaying itself. It is a
journey, not a goal.

Yes - at last - You. I Choose you. Out of all the world,
out of all the seeking, I have found you, young sister of
my heart! You are mine and I am yours - and never again
will there be loneliness ...

Rolan Choosing Talia,
Arrows of the Queen, by Mercedes Lackey

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