[MUD-Dev] Cultural impact on Muds (was: Star Wars Galaxies)

Koster Koster
Fri Jan 31 15:42:54 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

From: Eric Hu
> On Wed, 1 Jan 2003 17:59:28 -0800 
> "Koster, Raph" <rkoster at soe.sony.com> wrote:
>> From: Marian Griffith
>>> Of course none of this has anything to do with muds, but it did
>>> make me think about how much of current game design is biased by
>>> the amer- ican world view.  I know from reading this list that
>>> Lineage actually has quite a different playing style than the
>>> typical usa mud.

>> Actually, no, it doesn't. The cultural barriers are relatively
>> small ones, and are ones that are fairly easily surmounted,
>> IMHO. The core game engine of Lineage is a hack n slash mud much
>> like any other. The mid to elder game, where it becomes driven by
>> large-scale king of the hill guild games, is unique and
>> different, but not so different that we cannot easily label it as
>> "large scale king of the hill guild games."

> Dear Sir, I really dont think so.  Yes, the core of Lineage is a
> hack-and-slash mud. EQ too. A lot of mud too. They looks the same
> for those who never play game, just like all orientals look the
> same in the eye of a westerner.

Perhaps I should rephrase. IMHO, the core game mechanics of Lineage
are not tremendously different from Western game mechanics, and they
are familiar enough that they are easily described using the same
nomenclature we've developed for muds in general.

The "playing style" of Lineage is perhaps not its game design, so in
that I may have misspoken. Lineage's chief innovations are, in my
eyes, these:

  - a class that is based on leadership, not on archetypical heroic
  roles. The cultural barrier here, of course, is that by and large
  to an American audience the notion of a "naturally superior"
  prince, one that is predestined from birth (or char gen!) to be a
  leader, is culturally disjoint given the "self-improvement" and
  "egalitarian" aspects of the American myth.  Of course, given the
  baby Jedi and baby Jesus, it's not THAT alien.

  - integration of a very well done PvP "king of the castle" elder
  game that makes use of this special class and its ability to form
  guilds, with the effects of holding territory being significant in
  the world. This is an oft-discussed innovation, but Lineage did it
  and did it well, and has reaped the rewards.

There are other things that Lineage does well. Its crafting system
is fairly intricate, for example, and does not follow Western
paradigms that much--but it's still a crafting system, and we can
recognize it as such. But the above seems to me to be the core, the
beating heart of the game. It is not culturally incomprehensible nor
is it something that Western audiences cannot accept (at least
Wolfpack and UbiSoft hope not, what with Shadowbane, which draws on
many of the same principles). The rest of Lineage uses many tried
and true mechanics--a level system, skills, chat channels, guilds,
creature spawns, etc etc. In many ways, it is far less alien to the
mainstream of gameplay than say, Nexon's Dark Ages is (where
politics and legislation is a primary mechanic), or Fighting Legends
was (where control of multiple avatars simultaneously was a

> It depends on what your ruler is, small scale or large
> scale. Chess is game, MUD too. Will you say they are the same? 
> Maybe they are the same in the eyys of an alien, but they are not
> (for human). Culture barrier is really huge, not small in MMOG.

I am not speaking from a hugely distant perspective here, I don't
think. Nor am I comparing Chess to MUDs, or any such stretch. The
common elements between Lineage and say, EverQuest, seem to me to be
fairly readily identifiable.

>> The primary differences between the US and the Korean game
>> markets are in how the players play, not in the game
>> itself. Specifically, the "bangs" or Net cafes/game rooms are the
>> heart of the difference. The fact that this difference is
>> invisible to us watching here from the States makes us want to
>> label the game design itself as (shades of Fu Manchu!) 
>> "inscrutable" since we cannot see the appeal.

> Trust me, they are very different in the core of design. It just
> like a westerner could distinguish a Japanese from Korean, Chinese
> and Taiwanese, but we orientals could.

I find this statement somewhat distressing. There's an automatic
assumption that I am speaking from the perspective of a (sadly
typical) American with little experience of other cultures, running
all through your post. I do not mean to claim that I am thoroughly
familiar with Asia or its many cultures, but at least grant me some
credit. I speak two languages fluently and read three more (at
varying degrees of competency); I have lived abroad for a third of
my life, in multiple different countries; I'm a UNICEF brat, in

My statement is that the RULES of Lineage are not incredibly alien
or different. But that the way in which players PLAY Lineage
is. That the very real and significant cultural differences reside
more in the players than in the game design.

Even further, I would agree with the statement that different
rulesets will appeal to different cultures. I think there is ample
evidence of that.  Lineage's ruleset certainly appears to be more
appealing in Asia than say, EverQuest's.

That said, if there are significant cultural differences in the
*rulesets* of Lineage versus other hack n slash muds, I've missed
them. Would you expand upon the cited "differences in the core of
design"? The whole point of this list is to attack statements like
"trust me, they are very different" and analyze the actual
differences so that we can all learn from them. If there are
significant rule differences, I want to know more about them.

> The Net Cafes is an interesting issue(or problem) in Korea, China,
> and Taiwan. Anyway, they are special creatures born by the
> oriental culture-- a culture that parents FORCEd children to do
> the 'right' things. I would like to brief the situation, but it is
> hard.

It is a very interesting phenomenon indeed.

>>> I guess it is kind of difficult for an american to imagine life
>>> outside their own country, being so little exposed to it you
>>> kind of come to think that the whole world is exactly like the
>>> usa (and should be where it obviously is not (which incidentally
>>> is the mistake that Bush and his advisors are making).

>> Applicability to game design? Currently the USA is a cultural
>> exporter, primarily, not importer. The center of innovation does
>> appear to be Japan as far as games go (overall, though in the
>> console market predominantly). In terms of purveying
>> entertainment, the USA currently doesn't to seem actually need to
>> know that much about the cultures it exports to.

> I am sorry, dear Raph, would you mind to explain how you define
> the 'cultural exporter' and 'cultural importer'? By player number? 
> by EQ's servers set foot on Europe?

I meant in general across many different arenas, not in games
specifically.  It doesn't mean I like it, nor does it mean that
different parts of the world do not have their own vibrant cultural

What I was saying, simply, is that by and large the USA tends to
export cultural product (movies, music) much more than it tends to
import cultural product.

> Frankly, I was shocked when I read this "...USA currently doesn't
> to seem actually need to know that much about the cultures it
> exports to" by the creative director of the most expectant
> MMOG. Now, I cound understand why Japan videogames could seep into
> USA but Xbox failed into Japan...

Don't take that as a jingoistic or nationalistic statement. I don't
find it particularly GOOD that the USA is able to make, say, RAMBO 2
a huge hit worldwide without needing to know how it'll play in
Barbados or Croatia.  Nonetheless, Hollywood did do that, and
regularly does that. My statement, rephrased, is that "the various
US entertainment industries seem to be succeeding at exporting
entertainment to countries around the world without doing much
tailoring of the content to different cultures."

It doesn't mean that there is universal success. The games industry
is a clear example of the opposite in action. Japan does very well
at selling Japanese games to the American public, but the reverse is
not true.

> Most oriental MUD adms could read ,write and speak english, it
> helps us understand what the western cultures are (at least, USA
> and UK). In the other hand, most MUD adms of western cannot. Of
> course, it caused by too many languages in Asia. Take me for
> example, English is the 3rd language, Japanese fourth. It is all
> right that you guys didn't understand the culture of Korea games,
> but just ignore the differences and importances of another
> culture? I don't think it is a wise man will do.

I agree that a wise man will not do so! :) That was not my statement
at all.

> To be bluntly, I don't think Lineage is a good game. I even don't
> think it worth my time, too. But there are millions players
> devoted their days and nights there. Take another example, the 3rd
> large MMORPG in Taiwan-- background something like the movie
> Crouch tiger, Hidden dragon -- has more than 4.5 millions players
> in China, Taiwan, and Korea.

My favorite is the caveman one, actually.

> Is the culture difference not important? I dont think
> so. Especially when you want to earn more money.

Cultural differences are hugely important. I also believe that they
can bridged. I believe that there is a commonality of design
language that can bridge that gap and make the allegedly inscrutable
practices of other cultures comprehensible. I believe that people
can, well, communicate. To me, declaring the appeal of one game or
another as "mysterious and different at its core" gets in the WAY of
that understanding.

> PS: Raph, had you been Taipei before? How do you know the terrible
> traffic here? :P

I have been to Taipei, and Tainan, and I believe it was Kaohsiung
(?) in fact. The traffic was really bad--we got stuck in the middle
of an intersection with a dozen cars all going in different
directions racing right at us. I've rarely felt more sure I was
going to die. :)

In one of these towns, surrounded by dance pads and consoles, girls
asked me to sign their chests with magic markers because I was a
game designer. I was handed boxes of chocolates and at least a dozen
HUGE bouquets of flowers.  One player ran from the store where I did
a talk to the internet cafe where I was next, and stopped to buy me
a picture to give me as a gift along the way. He ran to all three of
my brief appearances that day, and kept getting me gifts. I have the
picture hanging on the wall at home.


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