[MUD-Dev] Protecting the Player's Suspension of Disbelief

Ron Gabbard rgabbard at swbell.net
Mon Feb 10 10:41:47 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

My question is this:  

  Where do you draw the line between increasing the
  convenience/playability of the game and protecting the player's
  suspension of disbelief (SoD) with regards to the immersive game
  world and/or storyline you're trying to create?

MMORPGs already ask for a high suspension of disbelief in that the
player is asked to accept the existence of worlds, magic/science,
races of creatures that most frequently don't exist in the "real
world".  If the player elects not to suspend their disbelief (or
that disbelief is stressed to the point of breaking), the player can
still enjoy the game within the context of trying to beat the code,
outperforming their peers in some competitive sense, or just
enjoying the chat room experience with nice eye candy.  In my
continuing study on MMORPG economies and supporting systems, I'm
running across various design decisions that have clear trade-offs
between making the game more playable/less exploitable and stressing
the player's SoD.  Some examples:

"Lore Item" flags are an artificial mechanism to limit farming of
items and/or are a flag to the player that, in a perfect game world,
this would be a "unique" item.  Thus, while one character may not
own more than one "Orcus' Wand", every PC in the game could
eventually end up wielding this demi-god's wand.  The result is that
more players get the experience of fighting a particular respawning
boss mob (another stressor on SoD) and gaining a particular piece of
equipment... but the item becomes A wand of Orcus and not THE wand
of Orcus.

"Personal dungeons with common entrances" allow individual and
groups of PCs to consume temporary content that was generated just
for them (as in the case of AO missions).  This guarantees that the
PCs travelling to the content will have the ability to consume the
content without having to compete with other PCs.  However, there
are also many situations where multiple players/groups are standing
at/entering the same door while each is zoning into their own world.

"Inventory systems with no encumbrance penalty" are extremely
convenient for players in that they reduce the amount of downtime
resulting from having to manage their inventory.  However, this
stresses the player's SoD in that they have to assume that they are
infinitely strong (regardless of what their character sheet says) or
that the carried items have absolutely no weight.

There are countless other examples where the player's SoD is
stressed in order to make the game more balanced, playable, or even
technically feasible.

I realize that every person even remotely familiar with MMORPGs will
have their own opinion and that there isn't any hard and fast rule.
This is one of the "art" parts of game design and I'm interested in
hearing some opinions on balancing game playability versus world
immersion in MMORPGs.  Is it even important to protect the player's
suspension of disbelief if that protection results in game play or
policies that the more-vocal players deem inconvenient (or even
fascist in the case of character naming conventions)?



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