[MUD-Dev] Thought Experiment: Permanent Monster Death

J C Lawrence claw at kanga.nu
Fri Dec 19 21:36:13 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

On Tue, 16 Dec 2003 10:04:44 -0700 
Chanur Silvarian <chanur at guildsite.com> wrote:

> But isn't having to patrol everywhere just in case something
> interesting might happen there the apogee of the explorer game?  After
> you've mapped all the terrain and the monster types that are typically
> found in certain areas, what is there for the explorer to do?

I'm going to maunder.

What post-Bartle data analysis there has been (limited) suggests that
there are in fact no Explorers, just a great many people who like to
think of themselves as Explorers but aren't in terms of realised action.
If this is in fact true, why is this illusion so persistent and so
treasured?  It seems that nearly everybody wants to self-describe as an
Explorer.  Merely a John Wayne signifier?

To my mind it brings up simpler and more fundamental questions:

  What is the game /for/?  What does it /do/?  Not what does the player
  do, or what goals does the player have, but what does the *game* do
  and what role does the player have in the process of what the game

This is the view of the player, casual or otherwise, not as a cog in the
machine of the game, but as a miniature director, a cat director among a
herd of other cat directors, and actor of significance.  Ultima
attempted some of the MOO world's environment vs game approach, and has
increasingly backed away from it as more GoP games encroached on their
user base.  Newcomers like There and SecondLife are again attempting the
prettily flavoured environment approach, the social space with toy
building apparatus, but I've seen little sign that they'll hit critical
mass (sorry Amy) for other than an acquisition target.

  What is required for the social space with toys approach to hit
  critical mass?

The current standard model is built around GoP, in turn defined around
advancement ladders and deterministic methods of gaining in-world power.
In terms of narrative this defines a pair of plot types: the "little
tailor" (man goes out has an adventure, comes back and tells everyone
about it), and "man learns a lesson" (eg character advancement).  The
plot-type that is missing is "boy meets girl", and even then the "man
learns a lesson" plot is vanishingly thin as in general the human player
hasn't learnt a lesson but has merely incremented a statistic on their

  Was the moral overtone and progress of the original Ultima series
  critical to their success?  Can this be parallelled usefully for MUDs
  without waxing evangelical or preaching?

TinySex and FurrySex have entrenched as the standard "boy meets girl"
plot-form, but its a preciously thin form again without any of the
subtlety, overtones or complexity that make boy-meets-girl literature so
enjoyable.  Where's the non-explicit non-Hustler-wannabe faintly
suggestive eroticism in MUDs?  Where are the equivalents of cocktail
dresses, high heeled shoes, lingering glances, and role postures?

  I don't know that these things can be invented but largely suspect
  that the environments we build won't in be "really real" in the social
  sense until these types of things, or, more likely, their analogue
  form and are adopted as social rituals by the player base.

Lee Sheldon talks about stories and the necessities for story telling in
games and the narrative form of player experiences.  Every good story
has a plot.  Every good story is also a game: there was a goal, there
were barriers to overcome, and there were things that could be done.
All the definitional requirements of a game.  Every good story also
contains ignorance, the unknown magic or mystery, an aspect which
delights profoundly but is yet whimsical and seemingly constructed of
nothing but the activity of being alive (if that makes sense).  I think
of this as the Cheshire Cat principle.  It is the element which provokes
the silly grin response rather than the guffaw, embarrassment (that most
powerful of emotions which we almost never see in MUDs) vs grand action
or drama, a dream rather than a target.

  Where are the dreams?  Where is the embarrassment?  Where are the
  Cheshire Cats, the old father Williams, the Emperor's of America?

  Why?  Are they not fundamentally necessary?

Then again, where is the fear and the grief?  Oscar Wilde in a MUD?

> Now take away the "known spawn points" by having them be random and
> your explorers have their work cut out for them.  As I've said over
> and over, it should not be completely random, it should be weighted so
> they have an idea of what zones certain things like, but they
> shouldn't know the X, Y, Z coordinate to find the MOB "Uber Dropz".

John Arras' work on simulated societies and world development is sorely
overlooked in recent discussion.  He gave an excellent presentation on
it at the last MUD-Dev Conference.  His server is Open Source.  I
strongly suggest installing and running a copy.  Just tracking the
emergence, growth, distribution, annihilation etc of NPC populations
within the game is amazing.

J C Lawrence
---------(*)                Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas.
claw at kanga.nu               He lived as a devil, eh?
http://www.kanga.nu/~claw/  Evil is a name of a foeman, as I live.

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