[MUD-Dev] SOC: Re: Characters as Avatars

eric at enkanica.com eric at enkanica.com
Mon Apr 25 16:33:06 New Zealand Standard Time 2005


Note for ed: Right you are about offlist-onlist.  This reply has a
lot of commentary.  Up to you if you want to forward it on.  Thanks
-Eric

Quoting Jaycen Rigger <jaycen.rigger at sbcglobal.net>:
> Eric <eric at enkanica.com> wrote:

>>> From what I think I know: 'Characters as avatars' refers to how
>>> people relate to the world.  Is the character on the screen an
>>> extension of who the player is (my skill at quake makes me a bad
>>> player, consequently, my avatar is bad, too) or is it a
>>> fictional creation that has no connection beyond the strings
>>> that you pull upon (e.g., a puppet that is really good at
>>> quake).

>> Another way of thinking about it: by in large, people just
>> don=92t roleplay elves. Instead, they roleplay themselves acting
>> in the particular context of the v-world that they find
>> themselves.  I can give you the example of someone in my pen and
>> paper group.

>> This person created a character whose general backstory
>> demonstrates a personality of gutsy heroism and adventurism.  But
>> they play the character as themselves in the context in which
>> their character appears.  So when their character is in a crowd,
>> they tend to be shy, not bold or audacious.  In online games, it
>> is the same sort of thing at work.

>> Many designers think that players will bear in mind the scope of
>> the toon that they plan, so that if you are (say) a dark elf
>> walking through the shire, then you=92ll likely kill someone.
>> But what happens is that the player doesn=92t.  They go about
>> their business, using the toon as an extension of themselves
>> instead of a puppet.  But the dominant concept is the person
>> creates a character as an avatar, as a puppet that they will
>> interact faithfully with what the cultural or designer=92s
>> perspective intentions are for that character.  Again, if they
>> play as a wizard, we sort of expect them to act intelligent and
>> not like an ass.

>> Only the best of actors and roleplayers are able to separate
>> themselves and use the avatar for what it is, but when they do,
>> few people respond to it in kind.  Instead, they=92re blacklisted
>> or put on /ignore for that rpgspeak.

>> That's how I interpret and experience 'characters as avatars'.

> Okay, that's kind of what I thought that meant.

> So, we're really talking about 3 seperate issues: is permanent
> death an acceptable game mechanic?, is your character an extension
> of yourself or a role-play tool?, and how do you deal with high
> level characters?


I'll address the first two questions throughout the rest of the
e-mail.  Fo r higher level characters, I just prevent people from
getting there the best that I can.  I don't like to provide a game
experience for PCs beyond level 12 or so.  It gets... silly.  In a
way, its like MMOG end-game.  You know, the ones th at require
players with dedicated pagers or cellphones for guild access.

If only we could take a time machine or if SOE could have made a
branch of their Evercrack game that gave people the experience of
levels 1-10 continually. Maybe even set the max at level 10, yet
keep the levels of PCs up to 50.  And instead of giving more
character statistical advancement opportunity, work on ways to make
the character lives more interesting.  Quake and a lot of othe r FPS
games have only 10 or so guns and they create a meaningful
interaction with people.  So why do these online RPG/MMOGs need to
have 100,000 spells/items/etc if for no other better reason to keep
up with the jonses of their digital neighbors?

I refuse the many extra spell books and expansion packs available in
the d20 universe for this very same reason.  It starts a cold war
amongst players, first off.  who can "collect them all" mentality
leads to a powergaming problem that, again, I prefer not to have to
bring an end to.  And second, it really is a nightmare to try to
thumb through ten rulebooks to find spell, feat, or skill X, Y, or Z
during the heat of battle or an important story driven moment...

E.g., "Your wife looks to you and in her fading moments askes,...oh
rats, i forget if that feat is in the book of enhanced deeds or in
the book of the dead, did anyone bring that book? no? ok, well,
let's say, alright... So yo ur wife is looking into your eyes and
about to call it quits when...."

For me, if a mechanic ain't in the core then it doesn't exist.

> As for perma-death, my approach is to have as much to keep the
> high level characters entertained as the low and mid level
> characters.  I do provide for perma-death situations, but only in
> certain circumstances.  For instance, when we're done, there will
> be 4 uber-dungeons (beyond all the others) that each have a lich
> as the "boss".  The lich tries once every X seconds to perma-kill
> a character nearby.  Liches don't wander around, but anyone stupid
> or brave enough to go into their lair has the chance for permanent
> death.

> To extend that idea, I'm placing a demi-liche that will kill your
> character, but won't perma-kill him.  Your ghost is prevented from
> leaving the lair of the demi-lich until the demi-lich that killed
> you is destroyed, and a cleric casts "Remove Curse" on your ghost.
> Only then can you be resurrected.  Almost as bad as permanent
> death:-)

That's evil enough and yet still quite sane.

IMHO & for the crowd, player death in the pen-and-paper setting does
someth ing worse than the absence of a player character. It ruins
months worth of stor y development, area and NPC development, and so
many more things that I therefore refuse to kill off my players.
Let me make a list on what happens to me, t he DM/GM, when a player
loses their character through permadeath situations.

  - The player is emotionally upset.  Usual course of action is for
  that player to have "a situation" that they have to deal with
  elsewhere.  I've heard them all when it comes to excuses....
  funerals, new jobs, award ceremonies...

  - The storyline for the player and any threads to other players
  must come to an end (imagine if Frodo died in Fellowship...kinda
  makes the RoTK or TT mute, doesn't it?)

  - All that gear and history built into the player goes out the
  window.

  - Other players become possessed by fear and greed.  "Gotta get
  everything i can to protect myself before i'm next!)

  - NPC storylines take second seat

  - The player has to take time to roll up the new character ...Zzzz

  - Dungeons and cities developed for the player's experience are
  lost.

  - The player makes a joke out of their new characters, kills them
  quickly a nd eventually burns out of the game.

Despite my allowances to keep my PCs alive, that does not mean I'm
sugar coating their lives, though.  There are a thousand fates far
worse than player deat h.


  - Mentors and their NPC friends die.

  - Favored items are broken, stolen, or destroyed.

  - Entire cities can be pillaged by war.

  - Can become cursed or transformed into something insane like a
  talking vegetable.

  - A thousand three-cm insect creatures might take up nest inside
  their brain and cause the PC to do weird things from time to time.

And no matter how hard you make the PCs life, it still adds story
capital t
o their experience, as they view the hardships as the necessary
evolution in their personal story, the only thing they really give a
damn about.

I should point out the unfortunate thing that I've experience with
players who realize that death just isn't on the menu:

Non-permadeath:

  - Makes the gameworld feel loose, too easy, and without challenge.

Game-Master Result: Increase personal challenges, content, story
lines.

The interesting thing to point out and the relevance perhaps for
MUD-DEV is that in the world of digital worlds, in a context where
each PC gets to experien ce the same story, it doesn't really matter
too much if bob dies.  What matters is if you have compelling enough
content for bob to go find before he cancels his subscription.  In
contrast to the pen-and-paper experience that I'm familia r with,
where I tailor content based on what bob does.  There's a
distinction amongst the two for someone to tease out, I'm sure of
it.

> In the context of my gaming group, I think that we always
> understood our characters to be "what we're supposed to be
> roleplaying" but at another level understand that our characters
> often end up being an extension of our own personalities.

> Some of the guys in my pen and paper group always play themselves,
> even though each new character "is a real departure from what I
> usually play" (hah).  The rest of us recognize that our first
> characters were basically super-extensions of our own egos, and
> have gradually tried to expand our role-playing abilities into new
> and different territories.

The last several players that I've gamed with have all created PCs
based on the same kind of PC that they created before.  They're
hungry for one particula r kind of experience.  My guess is that
they have a void they want to fill, n ot unlike what people
experience in the online realm.  I think you're more tha n well
aware of that though.

> Stretching yourself mentally and emotionally (playing a character
> in a game is deffinately an investment in both) is hard to do for
> anyone and I think most of us understand that change comes slowly
> and in small increments, if at all.

The interesting aspect to this is that in play, sitting around the
table, i t feels and is easier to cast yourself as an arcane rock
golem intent on smashing the city of dwarves for their failure to
bring to your master pretty little ribbons than to manipulate the
mouse to clicky your golem to move to x,y. Playing as the same rock
golem via the computer loses something.  I want to say that it adds
a layer of distance.  But I can't quite put my finger on it.

I read a few sites in the past that spoke of how the computer
human-driven agent is like a stage actor.  But I don't think that is
quite right.  The experie nce of playing a rock golem on the
computer, in any particular game model involving the computer, is a
paradigm more like baking one of those dollar pizzas than it is like
the theatre.  In the theatre, even under a mask or with strings, yo
u can still make yourself to be anything.  But that dollar pizza
only has so many different variations possible.  And computer games,
as I experience them, a re mostly like that the burnt underside of
my pizza.

> I've never played on a pay-for-play server before, so I've never
> seen what you're talking about to a great extent.  I think most of
> the more mature players, especially those with a pen-and-paper
> background, think of their characters in the same way as we do;
> this kind of duality between "an alternate persona" and an
> extension of the player's own personality.

If only I could remember what I saw it at.  When I was reading
through a bu nch of player driven posts talking about their
experiences with different DMs, one of them made a very noteworthy
point.  They said: The fantasy world that th e entire troop goes
exploring is basically the ego of the mind of the GM.  Th e author
of the post pointed out that their years of experience rpging had
taught them that certain personality types with certain key life
experiences game better than others.

I mention this all because I'd bringup the small point that there
are some cental pieces to how Shamanism works that are, for lack of
any other word, demonstrative of intriguing similarities.  I'm game
for discussing it off-list, if interested.

> My best experience was a place where most of the players were
> mid-20s with some 30- and 40-somethings mixed in with a few
> teenagers.  Most of the players had prior experience with pen and
> paper gaming (experience that is lacking in many younger players
> and SO shows itself in their behaviour, attitude and general
> approach to the game) so they were used to a more relaxed
> role-play atmosphere.

Hmm, this is a real interesting point here.  Players today have many
more digital game options for a roleplaying experience, but at the
same time, th ey come to the table without any ideas about what it
means.  Compare the number of muds and rpgs available in 2005 versus
1995 or 1985.  If these online RPGs were really bringing over that
roleplaying aspect of the rpg to the digital real m, then why is the
present youth demographic seemingly so ignorant of it?

> When players would walk up to us and start talking in a way that
> was out of context, we acted as though they were trying to cast a
> dark spell on us, or as though they were insane.  They either got
> frustrated and went away, or they got the hint and started to
> behave more like us.  With any minimal amount of effort, we would
> then be more patient with them and try to encourage that
> behaviour.  I think that's absolutely the best approach.

> Anyway, it's just strange.  I'm glad I'm not in the game of
> "they're paying for it, so we have to eat shit".  It's my world
> and I'll run it any way I like.  If people don't like it, they can
> take a hike:-)

Has there ever been any attempts at the formation of service
oriented busin ess whose intent is to provide a role-playing
pen-and-paper gaming experience? E.g., "Bob's RPG Company" who
provides a service of running pen-and-paper games for $12.95 a month
and a refreshment bar down the way.

I know a ton of folks want to link the pen-and-paper world to the
way thing s ought to happen in the digital realm.  But I do find it
a little mysterious that the number of pay-to-play mud like titles
far exceeds the availability of pay-to-play pen-and-paper service
experiences.

- Eric
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