[MUD-Dev] DESIGN: Role playing and Voice Chat

Tess Snider malkyne at gmail.com
Wed Oct 26 15:48:34 New Zealand Daylight Time 2005

On 10/26/05, John Buehler <johnbue at msn.com> wrote:

> Which makes me wonder why voice is going to ruin immersion for
> roleplayers (which seems to be the consensus among those who
> care).  If reading text that is interspersed with system messages,
> prompts and wallpaper graphics can be immersive, why is voice an
> impediment?  Is it simply that it is different?  Is it that it
> will be equally immersive, only to a different group of
> roleplayers than the ones who find text MUDs immersive?

I should explain a bit about the experience, and it might be a bit

When a text roleplayer roleplays, first of all, there are very clear
delineations between what is in-character text, and what is
out-of-character text.  The player will also often be using a client
which will color code different types of text, so it's extremely
easy for players to distinguish between the two.  The brain does a
VERY GOOD job of filtering the various channels, so it's clear what
is part of the narrative, and what isn't.  (After the fact, when
logs are processed for others to read, players often run scripts to
filter any of the out-of-character text which appeared.)

A player constructs a character's words and actions with a high
degree of care and craftsmanship, as an author might.  It is almost
as though the players were creating a collaborative book, where
every character has a different author.  How you say things is every
bit as important as what you are saying.  The subtleties of a single
gesture can mean life or death.

Logs of in-game play are cherished and swapped by players.  The
narratives are an important part of the game's history.  Moreover, a
clever turn of phrase, a brilliant manipulation, a terrifying
confrontation -- those are all more fun with an audience.

> I'm speculating that those who play and enjoy roleplaying MUDs
> today are naturally going to be the ones who find text immersive.
> If a voice MUD came out, it might be that it would need a slightly
> different type of player.  One who is more audially-focused.

You might be surprised, then, to learn that there are blind text
roleplayers. :)

Audio roleplay has a number of problems that I find it difficult to
reasonably overcome -- and not because of my text bias.  I will
provide one example:

Roleplay worlds almost always die out, if they don't develop a Main
Stage, of some sort.  The Main Stage is like Quark's from "Deep
Space 9," Rick's Cafe in "Casablanca," or The Garter Inn in "Henry
IV" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor."  It's Big Al's from "Happy
Days."  It's Cheers.  The Main Stage fills a number of important
roles: 1.) First and foremost, it is a place where players can go
where they always know they can find an audience at any hour of day
or night, 2.) It is an excellent mixing bowl, where various
otherwise isolated factions can intermingle, and potentially stir up
trouble, 3.) it is a good injection point for new players, where
they can quickly learn the ins and outs of the game, make contacts,
and ultimately be taken under someone's wing.

Many long-time players see the Main Stage as a sort of peasant
rabble, and will shun it for long periods of time, in favor of
smaller faction stages (e.g. a family library, a secluded cafe, or
some other such locale).  The administration of the game may even
fret over it, finding it out-of-genre for the game world, or
worrying over other social gathering points becoming neglected in
favor of that one location.  However, I would argue that it is the
essential mixing bowl quality of the Main Stage that ends up driving
much of the action and politics of the game.  Entire wars take place
over the events that transpire there.  It is very much a playwrite's
world, where it is the interactions in the small spaces that express
the greater, more epic events occuring in the larger world, outside.
As below, so above.

If I am sitting at a bar in the real world, I can listen to the
person next to me at my table, or I can allow my attention to
expand, and take in fragments of conversation in other places.  I
can notice the way a guy in the corner is looking paranoid, or I can
notice how a fellow up at the bar is silently drinking his sorrows
away.  I can observe two lovers speaking in conspiratorial tones
near the door, and while I can't hear them, I can tell from their
body language that they're gossiping about the unhappy man at the

I can have this *same* level of situational awareness in a text MUD,
as well.  How do I achieve that in an audio world?  How do I know
what anyone is doing?  How can I have that many people in a room at
once without it dissolving into a mad cacophany of largely
indistinguishable voices?

Oh, sure, I can think of clever ways to use positional audio to try
to simulate the aural landscape of an actual public space, but it
still doesn't solve the *action* problem, and it sounds to me like a
lot of work for something which will still likely produce an
unsatisfactory outcome.

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