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May 04, 2007

Comments

101.

At last -- a design thread! I enjoy some of the more academic stuff, but I'm not beardy enough to contribute usefully to it.

Which isn't to say a design thread will be any luckier....

Mike Sellers: Limiting the online world to a one-to-one relationship between player and avatar is a sacred cow from old RPG days. Why not multiple players driving one character, one player driving multiple avatars, or a combination of both?

A year or so ago I developed an outline for an idea I called "Petri." The core concept was that the world was full of organisms of various sizes and stages of complexity, and multiple players would control individual organisms. A single player could "drive" a simple organism, but the only way to "level up" would be to attract more players into controlling a single organism. You'd get more powerful collectively, but at the cost of individual power to personally control the movement and operation of your shared vehicle. (I also included the gameplay feature of stages of growth, so that an organism at Stage 6 was "too big" to affect Stage 1, 2, or 3 organisms.)

Other than the movement feature, letting multiple players control/operate a starship would be a similar example. (This question of how multiple players should control a shared vehicle is actually the single most heated subject of debate over on one of the fan forums related to the in-development Star Trek Online MMORPG.)

Strangely, there's very, very little about current MMOs that actively exploits their most unique feature: their "massively multiplayer" nature. (That word "actively" is important. Being part of a virtual world's economy by trading is a kind of massive content, and I consider it an important feature, but it's passive interaction with masses of other players. It's indirect, and therefore lacks punch.)

"One player, one avatar" is only part of the strangeness -- there's also the assumption that the largest grouping form that needs to be supported by in-game features is the guild. A guild with 300 members may be relatively big, but does it really qualify as "massive?"

Where's the truly massive content that should exist to extract value from the one thing that makes these virtual worlds unique?

Richard Bartle: If I establish a relationship with the player of a particular character, then I know when I see that character again that it's the same individual behind it and that I have a relationship with them. If it turns out to be a different person, I'm surprised. If it's always a different person, I don't form any relationships.

Does the type of relationship matter?

I can imagine a virtual world that rewards personal emotional relationships. I can also imagine worlds that reward shared-goal intellectual relationships, or even completely impersonal, task-specific "cog in the machine" relationships.

Do differences in the kinds of relationships enabled or rewarded have any bearing on the degree to which a construct is a virtual world?

Mikyo: Speaking of time, perhaps one reason why virtual worlds dont change is because, if anyone could truely win that 'epic struggle' then the game would be over.

I had another idea on this subject a few months ago. I called it a "Big Challenge" model of gameplay.

Instead of having a lot of little challenges that repeat themselves forever (so that, in a funny way, time in the game world is actually static), a Big Challenge game would set a defined task before its players. Once that task is done, the players are presented with a new (and perhaps even bigger) task.

A Tale in the Desert works something like this. The particular implementation I thought of trying was of plunking down players on the Earth of, say, 1750; of simulating many properties of matter and energy at various levels (including the need for avatars to eat, drink, breathe, and excrete wastes); and then telling them: "Your challenge is to build a colony on the Moon that can survive self-sufficiently for two real-time months. Go!" They'd then be able to develop new processes and technological artifacts using the simulated physics of the game world.

Once they'd achieved the initial goal, I'd be ready to unleash them on the next challenge, such as the terraforming of Mars. Then the colonization of some percentage of the asteroid belt. And then (assuming anyone was still playing) colonization of the galaxy.

(Funny note: I posted a long thought piece to this effect about a week before I heard here on TN of NASA's later-revoked "online space game" RFP. Ideas travel in packs....)

The point to all this was to think about whether there's a workable alternative to the current design in which all the pieces of the game world constantly undergo mini-resets. This ship-in-a-bottle design, where there's never any forward progress, no in-game impulsion toward a common goal, leads IMO to players seeing the game world as zero-sum games. No way to ever move forward means that all there is is all you'll ever get, so the only way to win is to take somebody's else's stuff. Welcome to Hobbesworld.

In contrast, a Big Challenge game should (in theory) be more amenable to cooperative play. There could still be low-level competition, but players would only "win" if they worked together as a group to beat the Big Challenge.

So would such a construct qualify as a virtual world?

Richard Bartle: The interesting part of time travel is where you go into the past, change it, then return to a changed present (or you go into the future, see some fault, then come back to the present and change that). Both of those are just about possible in single-player games, but in a multi-player world they'd have to affect everyone if they were to be consistent.

This reminds me of the term "subjunctive replay" that Douglas Hofstadter used in one of his "Metamagical Themas" columns in Scientific American. It's the kind of "what if?" game I play when I'm playing a first-person game. If there's a decision branch, I'll play through one branch and save, then go back and explore the other branch -- I hate thinking that I've missed seeing the different possibilities.

Which leaves me in a real pickle in a persistent virtual world. I can't go back and explore an alternate "what if?" branch because, as in the real world at the macro level, time's arrow travels in only one direction. Even if there were some mechanism whereby I could turn back my character's clock, once I've had an effect on other players the cost of turning back the clock for all of us becomes too high to contemplate.

And yet, doesn't something like this happen in most MMORPGs all the time? We grind out the exact same kind of action over and over to the point that it feels like time is standing still. Mobs respawn with no memory (beyond an inexplicable group faction counter) of having existed in a thousand previous incarnations. Or we take a group into the same instance over and over again, performing a kind of subjunctive replay until we get the outcome we want.

The difference is that this is only possible with non-player mobs. For most mobs there's no past and no future, there's only now. There's only the current incarnation, which is so trivially simple that it can be repeated by respawning to the same state a theoretically infinite number of times.

Maybe Kami Harbinger is right and NPCs are the avatars of game designer laziness. But:

Kami Harbinger: There are very few real scut-work jobs in a virtual world. Most of them are things that require human interaction, judgement, and creativity, all of which are fun.

No matter how crazy/boring/non-productive some activity may be, there will always be some human being somewhere who thinks it's fun to do it. And if you actually provide any kind of reward for doing it, some people will do it whether they think it's "fun" or not. (We call this "work.")

The trick is to find these people and persuade them to spend time in your world...

...assuming one wants to reward this kind of behavior. But that's an ethical question beyond the scope of this thread. And I've already written a post longer than one of Andy's. /grin

--Bart

102.

Personally there are some things I don't like the idea of races and classes, particularly when race is used as a hard boundary to instill conflict (why isn't WOW racist?). Still based around the idea of race, why not have an MMO that has no predefined races but rather at character creation every player but the first two created has to choose to be the offspring of two other preexisting players. This new character would inherit some features of the two parental characters. This new character will be introduced to her or her parents giving the parents the option to become friendly with the new player, perhaps help them learn the ropes, even play together habitually ("raise" the child?) or just ignore the new player. Once the distance from one leaf on the family tree to one on the other side of the family tree was far enough you would start realizing the differences between the two of you. And mechanisms could be put in place to either distance these far relatives or bring them together. Perhaps you are born in a town one of your parents is residing in at the time keeping the family apart. Or perhaps as you get farther away from a relative your speech becomes less decipherable to the other player, like a dialect. I want to think about this more but I have to get back to work...

On a side note, one neat thing that would come around is that the people higher up the tree would typically be more powerful from being around longer, and perhaps would eventually be elevated to a godlike status whether just in perception by other players or actually supported by the game.

103.

My thoughts on the issue have always been about time as a factor. One day you look and a building has been redone in bricks instead of wood, etc. Where classes are a guideline and the only way to progress is to develop a skill tree around it. Theres a finite amount of land, and that land is inhabited by people. When its gone, you have to fight for it. Resources are key, if you want to make money in a player driven economy, you have to have a commodity, everyone needs to eat, etc. Create a world that exists as the one we know does, but give it new physics and a fantasy about it that allows it to become your own.

104.

Bart Stewart>At last -- a design thread!

And, just like buses, you wait aged for one then another comes along immediately afterwards.

>Does the type of relationship matter?

All relationships matter. Some matter more than others, though.

>I can imagine a virtual world that rewards personal emotional relationships.

In tangible terms ("emotion points" or something) or in intangible terms (you'll be able to complete some task easier if you have an emotional relationship with someone)?

>I can also imagine worlds that reward shared-goal intellectual relationships, or even completely impersonal, task-specific "cog in the machine" relationships.

Nevertheless, for each of those you can suppose that some people you'll get along with (or at least appreciate their skills) enough to want to group with them again. If you can't tell who is whom from one session to the next (or, indeed, from one minute to the next) then this can't be done.

It's OK to have one-off quests that involve identity transfer. For example, you could have some "relay race" kind of encounter, where two giants square off against each other and the players in a party are mind-melded with one of the giants for 20 or 30 seconds at a time, during which period they get to control it (spells, special moves, whatever) before the next person gets control. That could be quite fun. However, everyone knows there's an identity-swap going on, and that when it's over everyone is back to their old selves again.

>Which leaves me in a real pickle in a persistent virtual world. I can't go back and explore an alternate "what if?" branch because, as in the real world at the macro level, time's arrow travels in only one direction.

Yes, this is the problem with time travel in virtual worlds. If you want to "restore a saved game", it means restoring it for everyone. Even if you do, it's not so much time travel as jumps to different timelines. The whole game or specific chunks of it can be changed, but the player (or in most cases, players) keep on trundling along their own real-world timeline.

Richard

105.

Just want to point to JCLs MUD prototype discussed quite heavily on MUD-Dev 10 years ago or so. It didn't involve time travel, but stored all events in each object rather than aggregated values. Thus apparently you could enter an object and see the historical view of the timeline for that viewpoint. Chronlogically.

If you want players to change the world it seems like you need to maintain some database locks on objects currently being "owned" by players in later ages. "Fate lets you blow up the pyramid if nobody in a later 'age' currently are climbing on top of it".

Static time travel can be found in existing MUDs, of course. Even in DIKUs like Legend MUD. You can easily create a faked time travel sim by allowing users to modify a carefully selected subset of the world model.

106.

@Michael: I’m thinking of my experience in WURM, an indie world in which players start in an empty, forested world. They chop down trees, mine stone, build roads and houses etc. Being a small player base, there were few actual players about at times. But you could get a sense of life going on, with new roads and buildings springing up while you were away.

So your Chinese player, Player C, logs on and sees a new road has been built in the neighborhood. He travels back in time to watch Players A and B build the road. He decides to help, and builds some of the road himself. Now when Player A logs at a later time, he finds he has extra road building materials in his inventory, because Player C did some of the work. He has the option to accept this help, and include Player C’s efforts in his world time line, or not.

I think this kind of thing would only work in a constructive, cooperative game world, rather than a destructive, competitive one. I’m imagining a large part of gameplay would revolve around who’s activities you included in the world, and who’s activities you ignored. The most popular world time lines would be the ones with the most interesting series of events. In effect the game would become one of collaborative storytelling. That is my current thinking anyway, I’m still a long way from actually testing this out.

107.

Richard said: "It's OK to have one-off quests that involve identity transfer...However, everyone knows there's an identity-swap going on, and that when it's over everyone is back to their old selves again."

Well... why, necessarily? Just like messing with scale, why not have a world where you can accomplish certain things as an embodied avatar (toon w/ skills, stuff, etc.) and certain things as your (for lack of a better term) disembodied avatar.

Imagine a game where you get one disembodied avatar; it is your main, Animus, let's call it (much sexier). Your animus collects powers no matter what happens when it/you animate various embodied avatars... let's call them Dudes. Perhaps only Anima can cast spells, travel very quickly over long distances, read certain inscriptions in ancient languages, etc. etc. And to do those things, you have to give up control over your Dude; un-embody him/her/it.

But while in the Dude, you accrue XP, stuff, etc. the same as you would in a standard MMO. Except that if you vacate to do Animus things, I can jump in and take it over and... well...

Infiltrate your guild? Empty your swag barrel? Assassinate your best friend?

And maybe when you dis-Animate your Dude, it acts as an NPC, or has certain automated actions depending on the situation. So if you don't want it Animated by another player, you need to get a dwelling with protective spells, etc. or find some guildmates who will watch over you while you're absent or... or... or.

If character swapping/stealing was part and parcel of the lore, it would be... a feature. If the gang is short a high-level healer for a particular raid, and you (my good buddy) have given me the location of your Dude and the password for limited control over it without triggering the "bad thing," I can jump in and play your healer for the duration. Maybe four or five players of different Anima (in different time zones) could work to perfect one Dude; a physical hero with four (or three plus whomever is in him) guardian spirits. I'd be much happier with in-game, RP-based, multi-player character dev than with paying some gold-farmer $200 to boost my toon to Level 60.

Our characters are not us. Let's have some fun with the durn things. Let's mess wiff they liddle haids.

108.

Concept: Heaven and Hell
No classes, just 'souls'; no rules, just user-modfiable environments and physics for movement, environment interaction + combat; set up a few basic 'seeds' in terms of backstory/milieu,SOME NPCs, distribute peoples starting locations randomly and....watch. You want to band together to attack those nasty [insert here]? Go ahead. You want to spend time learning ancient lore for its own sake? Go ahead. You want to lead the hosts of heaven to smite the evildoers? Find enough other players who agree with you to make a 'host' and knock yourself out.
Finally - real world/in game interaction. Knowledge gained in the real world should have an effect in the game. Don't ask me how this could work, maybe as simple as getting a code from a sratch card in RL which confers some benefit in game, or maybe real life knowledge of heaven/hell confers benefits. For example, in the Heaven/Hell MMOG described above, perhaps knowing the name of an angel/demon is enough to summon & control it? Perhaps typing the txt "philosphers' stone" instead of selected a premade choice during a dialog opens a hidden quest relating to that item?

109.

Bart: I can imagine a virtual world that rewards personal emotional relationships.

Richard: In tangible terms ("emotion points" or something) or in intangible terms (you'll be able to complete some task easier if you have an emotional relationship with someone)?

I'm a believer in making the type of reward appropriate to the type of person you're trying to attract or retain.

So some kind of light reward not directly related to gameplay might be attractive to the folks who are primarily interested in social play -- e.g., a decorative item or article of clothing, or a credit for shopping (real-world or in-game). I wouldn't, however, go so far as to offer XP or other direct gameplay benefit; I suspect that would invite invasion by players who would simulate relationships just to get the gameplay rewards.

More valuable, I think, would be a reward that increases the quantity or quality of relationships. I'd probably consider replicating some of the ideas from the various "friend network" sites that seem to be popping up all over the Web.

For example, when you add a new friend, the system (if you want it to do so) randomly chooses and sends you the bios of two players with similar interests. Quality-focused rewards could be trickier, since the depth of a relationship is a less tangible thing than most virtual worlds are equipped to measure. (Trying to do so might also be seen as intrusive.) But maybe the length of a formal, in-game relationship (say, having someone in a Friends list) is a reasonable analogue for depth. So perhaps a series of rewards for relationships of increasing longevity would work.

Richard: [Y]ou can suppose that some people you'll get along with (or at least appreciate their skills) enough to want to group with them again. If you can't tell who is whom from one session to the next (or, indeed, from one minute to the next) then this can't be done.

I think what I was slowly getting at was the idea that people are capable of subsuming their individual identities within the identity of a group. That doesn't mean they're no longer individuals; it just means that within that particular context, the group identity is primary.

If I'm a member of a group, and being a member of that group matters most, then perhaps it's less important for me to be able to recognize individuals as such than it is to know that they're definitely also members of my group.

This is kind of a funny position for me to take, since I'm a big believer in the point Robert Axelrod makes that being able to reliably recognize individuals is a requirement for cooperation to evolve. But maybe "member of my group" can be so powerful for some people that it's sufficient as a recognition marker to enable trust. Fraternal organizations might work like this -- someone who can be reliably identified as a lodge brother will be given the benefit of the doubt without knowing anything about that person's identity as an individual.

--Bart

110.

Richard Bartle> This isn't necessary. The world must be capable of supporting multiple players, but it doesn't actually have to have them all the time. Indeed, if it were the case that it had to have someone playing it all the time (or it would stop running, say), then that would probably count against its claims to persistence.

I was just running with your idea that taking away all the other players meant the virtual world became an adventure game. At least I know that persistence is not strict if a 5-day period between server resets is reasonable while a significant amount of the world survives. Now, where does that leave a game like Spore which is mainly a single-player affair, yet presents massively-multiplayer generated content in an indirect manner? Which leads me to...

Mikyo> Maybe a better definition could begin by examining the interface. Not the interface between human and machine. The interface between 'characters' either human or artificial. What do they have the capability/permission/authority to do with/for/to each other?

In order for a virtual world to have value beyond a glorified chatroom, players must engage in meaningful activities beyond abstracted communication. The virtual world plays an integral role by becoming the cause of activity (assigning quests/story progression), the object of activity (killing MOBs/raiding castles), or the reward of activity (EXP/items/land). Communication can become integral when the virtual world becomes the medium. Virtual graffiti, like spraying decals in Counter-Strike, is part of the virtual world and no longer part of the user interface. How's that for starters?

Richard Bartle> The label "virtual world" is merely the latest in a long line of terms for a particular kind of computer-moderated environment, as outlined in the opening post.

I suppose I can start referring to any non-real world as a fictional world. It would encompass any form of media and virtual already connotates man-machine interface with terms like VR, but you could easily substitute with digital since our world is analog.

111.

Andy Havens>Well... why, necessarily? Just like messing with scale, why not have a world where you can accomplish certain things as an embodied avatar (toon w/ skills, stuff, etc.) and certain things as your (for lack of a better term) disembodied avatar.

I'm not saying you can't, I'm just saying that there comes a point where you identify more with the disembodied self than the embodied self, and at that point you have something that wouldn't feel like a virtual world any more.

Also, there's a difference between being a disembodied self that everyone knows is you and a self (embodied or disembodied) that people can't tell is you or not from one moment to the next.

>Except that if you vacate to do Animus things, I can jump in and take it over and... well...
>Infiltrate your guild? Empty your swag barrel? Assassinate your best friend?

For which the natural result would be paranoia: D&D-style doppelganger tests, keeping all your good stuff in your alt's bank, standing in the middle of a desert away from civilisation...

>you need to get a dwelling with protective spells, etc. or find some guildmates who will watch over you while you're absent or... or... or.

Or a bunch of other things which just make it tiresome.

I don't think character swapping temporarily is a bad thing per se, but this wouldn't be the way to go about it.

>If character swapping/stealing was part and parcel of the lore, it would be... a feature.

If it were a feature that triggered too often, though, the fact you couldn't tell that the person you were speaking to today was the same person you were speaking to yesterday would change the way the virtual world worked. Other players would seem less like people and more like faceless machines. It would undermine something important about a virtual world: your sense of identity within that world. That doesn't mean the resulting game might not be fun, but again, is it a step too far to qualify as a virtual world?

>Our characters are not us.

No, but they become us, and we become them.

>Let's have some fun with the durn things. Let's mess wiff they liddle haids.

Yes, let's, but let's keep it as a temporary diversion, not part and parcel of the gameplay.

Richard

112.

Bart Stewart>I'm a believer in making the type of reward appropriate to the type of person you're trying to attract or retain.

Yes indeed, but some people are easier to reward than others. Social players are particularly difficult to reward. Rewards come in two types: tangible, in which you get better gear or a higher rank; intangible, in which you get more friends and a higher reputation. To date, we've found no system able to give tangible rewards for social play which can't somehow be exploited. Because of this, the rewards for social play tend to be either intangible (a nice new title) or ineffective (a nice new frock).

>For example, when you add a new friend, the system (if you want it to do so) randomly chooses and sends you the bios of two players with similar interests.

This might work with virtual worlds set up to be all about social play, but in a game-like world it would fill me with horror! The whole point of playing is so you don't get stuck with your real-life self, not so you have to be the real you while playing.

>But maybe the length of a formal, in-game relationship (say, having someone in a Friends list) is a reasonable analogue for depth.

Maybe, yes, but if there were the slightest gameplay advantage in it you could be sure that the people with the longest, best-stocked friends lists would be achievers, not socialisers.

>I think what I was slowly getting at was the idea that people are capable of subsuming their individual identities within the identity of a group.

They are, yes. They still want to know who else is in that group, though, so they know their own place within it. "If other people in the group are riff-raff, hey, maybe that means I'm riff-raff too, ooer!".

Virtual worlds in the Far East have a more advancement-of-the-group philosophy to them. A virtual world in which groups "level" are certainly possible. If you don't know the individuals within the group, though, you start to stray from what a virtual world is. How far do you have to go before you have something else instead?

>But maybe "member of my group" can be so powerful for some people that it's sufficient as a recognition marker to enable trust.

It could do, yes. Freemasons apparently trust other people who are freemasons, even if they don't know them. However, someone does have to know them in order for them to be invited to the group. The only other significant possibility I can think of right now is for an individual to be part of a culture which trusts others of that culture, as is the case in ex-patriate communities. This would also work, but it can lead to inter-group conflict of an unpleasant nature.

Richard

113.

Ainai>where does that leave a game like Spore which is mainly a single-player affair, yet presents massively-multiplayer generated content in an indirect manner?

It leaves it as not a virtual world (at least not in the sense I'm using the term here).

>I suppose I can start referring to any non-real world as a fictional world.

That would work, yes. What I'm calling "virtual worlds" are indeed a subset of fictional worlds (although I suppose social worlds such as SL might have an argument against such a designation).

The trouble with "virtual worlds" is that some things are virtual and they're worlds and therefore they could claim to use the term. Spore, as you say, is an example. Unfortunately, every term we've come up with in the past has also been transient. whatever replaced "virtual world" will be so, too.

>you could easily substitute with digital since our world is analog.

Quantum physicists may disagree...

Richard

114.

@Richard: About the one player, multiple characters thing. I get where you're coming from. But here's my basic point... When I've played with other people that I really like, I care about them, not about their toons. I've restarted with different characters, either by request or on my own, when the nature of the play made it obvious that we could use another Type X in the group, or we had too many Type Zs by the time I came along. Everyone, also, keeps alts in games that allow it for a variety of reasons; crafting, farming, just to try out new stuff. We let our good buddies know our alts' names so that they can find us when we're grinding and so we can switch back to our mains.

Yes, we'd need some way to make "knowing who you're dealing with" part of the main game. But we don't really know that now, in many cases. We know something about "the character" a person is playing, but very little about *their character," because so much is wrapped up in the bling of the toon; levels, weapons, armor, loot, etc.

In improve theater training, you learn to be a better player by switching roles. You become better at the overall skills by not sticking to one particular part. That's what I'm thinking about here. How could a game encourage *play* without so much emphasis on the piece?

Is it a virtual world? I don't know... It's not parallel to ours, I will admit. One person, one brain for the most part down here, sure. But until somebody comes up with a way to make players actually RP on servers with RP in the title, I'll keep trying to think of ways to push that envelope.

115.

Late to the game, but something comes to mind... What about a world which revolves around setting puzzles? Many puzzle games allow players to create their own levels, for instance. You could even call this a kind of magic (for representational purposes).

So players create puzzles (using the building blocks provided by the system) and other players try to solve/defeat them. This could be the core of a more conventional game, I suppose. Progression would grant access to better/more numerous building blocks, the ability to maintain more puzzles "online" for others to challenge at any time, better puzzle-solving tools, etc. Success would be measured by how many players actually tried your puzzle, the number of times each player tried, the number of times they failed, etc. Persistence... well, your progress is persistent, and you can keep a certain number of puzzles online for others to engage with. The whole thing could be spatialized by having the local terrain affect the puzzle in an interesting way (perhaps some building blocks have a different effect when placed over water, etc).

This immediately suggests two different metrics of advancement - setting and solving puzzles - which might have differing rewards. Of course, there could be PvE puzzles, but that would probably require an ongoing content-creation team.

I suppose that this system might work best in a fantasy world as a system of "rune magic" (as opposed to the typical "elemental magic"). It could even replace traditional combat entirely.

The problem, of course, is that this whole thing is primarily an Explorer/Achiever thing (myself being an Explorer) and the Socializer/Killer aspects need to be shoehorned in to a certain extent. However, the basic design of the puzzle system could afford interfering with others' solving efforts ("killing") or co-operation (socializing). The allure of creating a deathtrap against which others would dash their heads in frustration, I think, might also have some appeal to the Killers, and of course a well-realized world and setting (in the cosmetic sense) could have value for Socializers.

The other problem, of course, is a chicken-and-egg one: how do you ensure a goodly supply of puzzles? But I think that is not insoluble.

(Owing to sheer arrogance on my part, I must of course invoke the Berne Convention at this point. ;) )

116.

Andy Havens>When I've played with other people that I really like, I care about them, not about their toons.

Yes, of course. The characters are mere conduits for relationships between actual people.

>Yes, we'd need some way to make "knowing who you're dealing with" part of the main game. But we don't really know that now, in many cases.

What we need is pseudonymity: the knowledge that the person you're playing with - whoever that may be in real life - is the person you thought you were playing with often enough that you can take it for granted. What I was complaining about with regard to some suggestions in this thread is the suggestion that anonymity might be a fun gameplay mechanic for virtual worlds. Now while it might be fun to break the connection between real person and in-game personae every once in a while, if it happens so often that you can't identify an individual from one session to the next, well, that's when you have to start thinking that, fun though it may be, it's not perhaps a virtual world any more.

>How could a game encourage *play* without so much emphasis on the piece?

In a variety of ways, but the greater the variation then the less of a virtual world you have. People can have several pieces, just as they can have several suits; they wear the one that fits best for their mood or the occasion. Ultimately, though, what people get from a virtual world is the alignment of player and character - that's why they're playing, deep down. They get to find out who they are by being someone else - their character. If they have several characters, then either: they know who they are (they've reached the end of their hero's journey); the characters are for some functional purpose ("we needed a priest"); or they're still seeking a best-fit.

Thus, if you don't emphasise the piece, OK, you could have a really fun game, but how could it still be a virtual world?

Richard

117.

N. Ng>What about a world which revolves around setting puzzles?

Hmm, there's at least one that revolves around solving them (Puzzle Pirates), although because a lot of the action is controlled by the client it might not stand up to serious assault by hackers in a less playful environment.

>So players create puzzles (using the building blocks provided by the system) and other players try to solve/defeat them.

Yes, this could work as a core mechanic ("quests as puzzle-creation").

How would you rate how difficult a puzzle was? I can see how people might accidentally, mistakenly or maliciously create puzzles that have no solution. You sit down to try the latest variant on Sudoku and after 20 minutes find there's a flaw in the set-up that means it's impossible to finish.

>This immediately suggests two different metrics of advancement - setting and solving puzzles - which might have differing rewards.

Once a puzzle is solved, it's solved. The solution goes straight onto the community web site as evidence that the solver got there first and wants the kudos. You kill a monster, and a bit later it respawns; you solve a puzzle, and..? What you need is not so much a puzzle as a puzzle-generating system, so every time you try it you get a different starting position and a different solution. Then, you're back to rating how hard they are, though.

Richard

118.

Richard Bartle wrote - Once a puzzle is solved, it's solved. The solution goes straight onto the community web site as evidence that the solver got there first and wants the kudos.

Which means a world that relies on puzzles for entertainment (or any "problem" where looking up the solution makes it easier) can't rely on part of the "fun" being "keeping up with the joneses"... so achievers are out. Plus, they can't rely on players sticking around for 500 hours, since 500 hours of puzzles is too much content to create.

119.

Still working on this. I do believe that a fictional world could be described by the interactions between characters. Characters either human, or artificial, or combinations of both. What are their capabilities, intentions and rights? No wait, this would not just define a virtual world, but probably several different kinds of worlds.

120.

First Person Shooter Capabilities

login/logout (humans)
choose name, appearance, voice (humans)
summon/name/remove/command bots (humans)
vote for changes (humans)
move (both)
shoot (both)
collect weapons, ammo, powerups (both)
chat (human)
respawn (both)
navigation (both)
score temporary (both)
score recorded permanently (humans)

121.

@N. Ng: A Tale in the Desert has a “Discipline” devoted to making and solving puzzles. What happened there was two responses. One set of people made and solved “fake” puzzles for the reward. Another set made and solved puzzles for the challenge of it. In the latter case, there wasn’t any outing of solutions to a web site. The puzzle community was small enough that opprobrium for “ruining” someone’s puzzle outweighed the kudos for publishing it. So I would say the puzzle setting gameplay works for a multi-player game, but doesn’t scale to massive.

@Andy and Richard: You can get around the problem of not knowing who you are dealing with by creating a higher level character, a Demi-god, to represent more directly the players personality and history. Then the game becomes more like an improv theatre group, where the players all have a shared community at the player level, while also having ongoing history at the character level.

I’m not convinced that aligning character and player is necessary to create a virtual world. I can see if you are following the Hero’s Journey model it is so. But if a couple were seated side by side, playing one character in the world in a consistent way, would anyone notice that much? In a world of Mike’s rich AI personalities, could the player take on a role of coach and director for his AI actors? I think you would still learn something about yourself for sitting in the directors seat rather than the actors seat. If The Sims Online had been more like I was initially expecting, maybe we would have had an example to examine by now. Aligning character and player didn’t do much positive in that example.

122.

"Ultimately, though, what people get from a virtual world is the alignment of player and character - that's why they're playing, deep down." Absolutely. On the other paw, my nightelf has a mount and a combat ready pet. I don't think of the stalker or the saber as 'me', but they are pieces under my control.

123.

Richard: Ultimately, though, what people get from a virtual world is the alignment of player and character - that's why they're playing, deep down. They get to find out who they are by being someone else - their character.

Richard, I'm groping at a summary understanding here so please correct me if I'm going in a wrong direction.

But it sounds as though the relatively specific identifiers of virtual worlds that you proposed at the start of this thread are actually irrelevant, that there's really only one test for whether something is a virtual world, and that's whether it's a vehicle for the realization of self-identity. Basically, is it art?

This goes back to Ainai's observation about "fictional worlds." If the criterion is whether I can learn something about myself by experiencing that art form, and reading a novel that lets me imagine I'm someone else enables self-realization, then does the setting (including place and characters) created in that novel therefore qualify as a virtual world?

Or must the definition of "virtual world" be dependent on the medium for self-discovery? Does it need to be on a computer, or interactive? Why? Does it matter if we figure out something about who we are from a book or a play or an online game as long as each of these creates a setting in which we can learn something about ourselves by imagining that we're someone else?

I'm not opposed to the idea that online, software-based interactive worlds are somehow qualitatively distinct from other forms of art. I'm interested in hearing how and why you'd think they're sufficiently distinct from other worlds to be the only form to truly deserve to be called "virtual worlds."

That might help clarify where the dark and unexplored places of the set can be found. What are some other paths to self-realization that aren't being enabled in today's virtual worlds (including their MMORPG subset)?

--Bart

124.

Perhaps the main difference is the question of authority. During a movie one can only watch the actors. During a game, one can BE one of the actors. So the designer who wishes to tell a story has this problem, "what if the players take a wrong turn, choose a different ending, or even decide to ignore the story and do something else instead?" Current designers seem obsessed with this lack of authority. They endlessly devise new incentives and punishments. They are essentially trying to persuade the players to act as "the designers intended."

125.

Branching stories can work, but only if they can be limited to a reasonable number of branches. One choice makes two endings, but two choices make four endings. So most current game designers spend most of their effort trying to nudge players along some preconcieved plot line.

126.

Richard said: "Ultimately, though, what people get from a virtual world is the alignment of player and character - that's why they're playing, deep down. They get to find out who they are by being someone else - their character."

A world is more than one hero's journey, and the hero's journey is more than just his first person perspective on it.

If you want to make the argument that a hero's journey is necessary for a virtual world, I'll agree (for the sake of the following argument)... but as a lifelong writer, I will then insist that so much more is involved in a hero's journey than his own singular, ego-driven view of what's going on.

If a virtual world is to be made up of multiple heroes on multiple journeys of discovery, all interacting in various ways... OK. Why do I only have to play one? Or why can't I play one hero and several ancillary characters in order to more fully understand the role of the forces that shape the hero's journey? Isn't the journey best understood sometimes not from the inside (acting the hero) but from the outside (acting one of the agents of strife) or even acting as part of the environment? Or many parts?

I recall playing Dungeon Master. There was a hero's journey going on there... and, eventually, the hero's always won. But the player, as dungeon master, was there to be the foil to the hero. Is it any less a virtual world if players are playing some other part of the hero's journey than the hero?

When I pen-and-paper roleplay, I often enjoy playing ancillary roles as opposed to straight-up hero types. I like Merlin better than Arthur and R2-D2 better than Luke.

Like I said... I'm willing to accept (conditionally) that the hero's journey is necessary for a VW/MMO. I'm not sure though that I accept "one hero per player" nor "non-heroes need not apply."

127.

So most current game designers spend most of their effort trying to nudge players along some preconcieved plot line." Maybe this is why so many games seem like the puzzles. The puzzle is, "What did the designer intend for us to do? Should we kill the goblin, detour around it, or offer it a fish?" Which path to the cookies?

128.

Andy said: A world is more than one hero's journey, and the hero's journey is more than just his first person perspective on it.

I've written a bit about new forms of story before. I believe that the hero's journey is emblematic of the classical story-form of teller and audience: one voice, one point of view, many listeners. In classical fiction we can put ourselves in the place of the hero, but we aren't the hero.

Virtual world games, OTOH, are -- or could be -- something entirely different, enabling a truly new form of story, not just a riff on Aeschylus or Campbell. There needn't be one single point of view, authorial voice, or one true through-line. These are the old form of story, but not the only form. Story isn't someone-else, much less predictable plot or vacuous theme; story is the wrapper we give to events experienced meaningfully. In a virtual world we aren't actors and audience separated by the form of the story and the fourth wall, but actors and audience all together, at the same time.

Right now we either don't tell stories in virtual worlds or we graft on hobbled versions of older forms, especially the hero's journey. I'm not sure there's a more misapplied form, more of an empty promise: "you're the hero!" except of course, you're not. The heroics are empty, the world isn't changed, you aren't changed, there is no journey -- just a mindless rushing about from vending machine to vending machine. "Never confuse motion with action," said Benjamin Franklin. He wasn't talking about this frenetic faux fiction, but he might as well have been.

Paraphrasing Andy, a world's story isn't one person's story, it's the combined story of everyone in the world. If we can break out of our own worn forms and give people in the virtual world meaningful events to live, true journeys to take, they'll tell the stories that emerge on their own. We just need to give them more than empty accomplishments of vanquishing jack-in-the-box monsters who simply pop up again on a clockwork schedule. Getting to level whatever does not make you a hero.

129.

Hellinar>But if a couple were seated side by side, playing one character in the world in a consistent way, would anyone notice that much?

I've known this to happen, and you don't really notice much unless one of the couple gets to play the character when the other is absent. Then, you do notice.

I suppose a couple who were close enough could go on a hero's journey together, but I don't know what the theory says about it. I would hazard a guess that this isn't how the vast majority of people play their virtual worlds, though.

>In a world of Mike’s rich AI personalities, could the player take on a role of coach and director for his AI actors?

Yes. I personally wouldn't mind a world so rich and varied that I was the only player in it. Give us a few centuries and we might have AIs good enough that you visit your personal virtual world to engage with actual (albeit emergent from software) AIs. Then, would it matter at all that they weren't real?

We're straying into Mike's new thread here, though. For the moment, you'd probably have an interesting and fun experience playing a game where you pulled the strings of actors, but would it still be a virtual world?

Richard

130.

Andy Havens>A world is more than one hero's journey, and the hero's journey is more than just his first person perspective on it.

A world is more than one hero's journey, yes. The world remains when old heroes are long gone.

I don't know what you mean by the hero's journey being more than just his (the hero's?) first-person perspective on it, though.

>If you want to make the argument that a hero's journey is necessary for a virtual world

It's not for all virtual worlds: it isn't for SL, for example. It isn't for all players of virtual worlds: it's not for me, for example. For game-like worlds, for most of the players, though, it does explain why people play. If you change the nature of the world so that they can't embark on a hero's journey, the question is whether it's still a virtual world or whether it's something else.

Virtual worlds are places. I personally think it's an important feature of them that players visit them, and that if you stress that too much then you end up with something else. I'm not saying that you can't do all these things people are suggesting here, just that if you do do them then you end up with something different.

As an analogy, if this thread were about TV then someone could say "why not take away the pictures?", and yes, of course, that's possible and it could be very entertaining and have different attractions. Would the result still be TV, though? No, it would be radio. With virtual worlds, OK, chip away at the connection of an individual to an in-game character; what you're doing is blanking out the picture of a TV for a short while, or desaturating the colour. Yes, it works fine for dramatic effect in particular shows, but basically if you have a TV you want to watch pictures with sound. If you have a virtual world, you want to visit that world as an individual and have a presence there. Mess about with that if you want, but would the result still be a virtual world?

>If a virtual world is to be made up of multiple heroes on multiple journeys of discovery, all interacting in various ways... OK. Why do I only have to play one?

Because there's only one you.

You can play multiple ones, but you're doing so to look for one that is a comfortable fit. It's just part of your overall quest to discover more about who you really are. They're just different clothes for you to wear. Once you find the image that works, then you can explore further within that context.

>Or why can't I play one hero and several ancillary characters in order to more fully understand the role of the forces that shape the hero's journey?

You can. People do. In the olde days, when we had permadeath, you would be reinventing yourself often. These days, characters aren't snatched from you so if you find you have one that doesn't really work for you, you start another. Eventually, hopefully, you get one that's right (or you realise it doesn't matter - you finish your journey).

>Isn't the journey best understood sometimes not from the inside (acting the hero) but from the outside (acting one of the agents of strife) or even acting as part of the environment?

In setting up the conditions for it, both internal and external views are required (ie. what the hero wants and how to ensure they get it). In experiencing it, though, you don't even need to know you're on a hero's journey. In terms of understanding it, neither matters.

>Is it any less a virtual world if players are playing some other part of the hero's journey than the hero?

They're not playing parts, they're trying to be themselves. I may be the centre of my own universe, but a bit part in yours. There's nothing to say that I can't be following my own hero's journey while acting as a foil in yours.

>I'm not sure though that I accept "one hero per player" nor "non-heroes need not apply."

I'm more concerned with the effects of "would-be heroes need not apply".

Richard

131.

Mike wrote:

story is the wrapper we give to events experienced meaningfully

Wonderfully put, and your comment in general is exactly right, imho.

132.

@Richard: I guess what I'm trying to figure out is if the best way for me (the player) to undergo some kind of play/entertainment/learning experience that I find fulfilling is to:

A) Enter into a relationship with a character who can most fully experience journeys, events, puzzles, adventures, interactions, stories, etc. or;

B) Experience those things as a player who interacts with a variety of world/game devices, one (or more) of which would be characters (traditional or otherwise), others of which might be... all kinds of stuff.

In the real world, we have several ways to experience the hero's journey, to stick with this metaphor. We can experience it ourselves in our own lives, or we can experience it vicariously through reading, film, stories, etc.

When we experience it vicariously, we often understand the hero's journey not solely through his own perspective, even if it is told therefrom. We read about his upbringing, his parents, his environment; in short, his world. Those pieces inform our understanding and delight in his journey, even though his place in it is paramount.

Since this is the case, if we see a VW/MMO as a vicarious hero's journey, why should we force the player to stay fixed behind the hero in 3rd person view? I'm not saying that it's a *wrong* way, only that it is limiting. We create these characters in MMOs, often wholecloth, at some post-pubescent age, and they spring from our keyboards with little or no background, a set of clothes, some crappy weapons, and they start killing baby bunnies and collecting baby loot. I'm simply suggesting that some of what we called "back-story" (in a variety of manners) might be instructive to anyone seeking to further understand the hero's journey from a vicarious, audience-level position.

Now... if we want to treat the *player* as the one whom is going on a hero's journey of some kind -- albeit a minor one -- and actually learning something about him/herself through the process of play, group mechanics, puzzle-solving, strategic thinking, etc.... then I think there is even more reason to let the player step out from behind the one-player / one-toon rule and see how the effects of the "hero" may have ripples that go well beyond his/her actions in the immediate drama.

I don't disagree that most people are currently playing MMOs in a way that suggests they really enjoy creating a relatively blank character, futzing with it until they get comfortable, and then womping it through lots of levels in order to do increasingly difficult and enjoyable stuff. That's cool. Got no probs with it.

But this was a thread about 1st principles, eh? And I'd say that the current/classic structure of how players create and maintain characters is limiting, compared to what could be going on.

You say that taking away the picture turns TV into radio. Yep. I agree. What I'm suggesting, in my mind, is taking TV and adding HD. We can't actually *live* the hero's journey in VW's because, well, they're virtual. Same as we can't actually touch the juicy cheeseburger in the TV because, well... it's a picture. So what do we do? We compensate by adding better sound, better images, bigger screens, more features. Why? Because watching Star Wars on a 72" flat screen monster with surround sound is, arguably, a qualitatively better experience than watching it on a 9" black-and-white with one ear piece.

I don't know if what I'm suggesting is possible, true, fun, good, bad, ugly, stupid. But I know that the current manner of character definition and leveling leaves me -- an old school RPer, GM and writer -- often quite cold, from a story and interactivity standpoint. If it is not possible for me to get my heroic groove on with one character (small, b&w tv), maybe controlling more of them in different ways (big screen, Dolby) might give me insights and value I'm currently not finding.

133.

Andy Havens>When we experience it vicariously, we often understand the hero's journey not solely through his own perspective, even if it is told therefrom.

The point of a vicarious hero's journey is that we somehow relate the hero to ourselves, and thereby gain insight into our own condition. Adding context or other points of view can help that, sure.

>Since this is the case, if we see a VW/MMO as a vicarious hero's journey, why should we force the player to stay fixed behind the hero in 3rd person view?

We shouldn't - IF we see it as a vicarious hero's journey. I don't see it that way at all: I see it as part of an actual hero's journey. If you want vicarious hero's journeys, books and movies work just fine.

>We create these characters in MMOs, often wholecloth, at some post-pubescent age, and they spring from our keyboards with little or no background, a set of clothes, some crappy weapons, and they start killing baby bunnies and collecting baby loot.

There are plenty of character-creation systems available that go into more detail than this, for people who want to get to know their character while the build it. It could be argued, though, that for leap-right-in players, the bunny-killing is part of the character creation system. Tutorial-style gameplay might in these cases serve the same purpose as a full blown two-hour customisation.

>Now... if we want to treat the *player* as the one whom is going on a hero's journey of some kind

That is exactly what I want to do.

>-- albeit a minor one --

Minor enough to take up several hours of their time every day, for weeks, months, years...

>then I think there is even more reason to let the player step out from behind the one-player / one-toon rule and see how the effects of the "hero" may have ripples that go well beyond his/her actions in the immediate drama.

Uh? I don't think that's "even more reason" at all. You can get all that without having multiple characters (it's what friends are for), and there's a danger that if you do have it then you discover that actually you're fairly insignificant and cause few ripples at all.

Am I misunderstanding your point here?

>But this was a thread about 1st principles, eh? And I'd say that the current/classic structure of how players create and maintain characters is limiting, compared to what could be going on.

It's limiting, but is exceeding those limits going to give you something that is no longer the same kind of beast as a virtual world? People can play a text MUD and recognise it as being basically the same experience as they get in a modern graphical MMO, and they can play WoW and recognise its kinship with SL, but would this same sense of what a virtual world is still apply under your proposed changes?

Richard

134.

@Richard: I guess I'm not being clear... I'll keep trying until we're fed up, because I think this is an important point.

I have friends who play golf for many, many hours a week. They do it with friends. They talk, they network, they learn about each others' lives. They socialize and grwo in the context of a game. I'm not a golfer, but I understand why they do it, why it's fun for them, and the joys of that kind of activity. I would be hard pressed to say, however, that as they are going through the days, months and years of play together that they are experiencing a hero's journey... at least any more of one than they would be experiencing in any other kind of shared activity with a potential for social interaction, networking, etc. A hero's journey can, of course, take place at work, in a bowling alley, by oneself, at a circus, etc. etc.

I think, though, that MMOs/VWs can be better than average entertainment / socialization vehicles both for the presentation of vicarious hero's journeys, and for the experiencing of them directly. Because they incorporate some elements of those aspects of the journey that are both most easily shared in a communicative media (through vicarious presentation), and experienced directly from within the metaphor.

IE, you best learn about poetry by writing it. One of my favorite Yeats' quotes being, "How can we tell the dancer from the dance?"

So... in real life, yes... we can only understand our own actual, unique, explicit, non-vicarious journey by experiencing it directly in the 1st person. I am me. Period. I will grow (or not), learn (or not), fail, strive, etc. etc. I am forced into that perspective by the laws of physics, biology and psychology.

Metaphor, in any form, however, allows us to represent one thing for another. Good, serious fiction is almost always a metaphor, and if we are learning vicariously about the hero's journey, we are usually doing so either through various explicit metaphors, or through the lens of our perceptions, which say, "Ah, if XYZ for the protagonist, so ABC for me." If we did not have a metaphoric mind, the tales of others would be meaningless to us, as we would think, "What does the story of even a real-life hero mean to me? He's not me, and so his efforts do not translate."

If you want a VW that is so connected to people that when they do good (or bad) things there that those experiences translate almost entirely into their RL psyches -- such that they can experience a real hero's journey and not, as you say, something akin to reading a book -- you have to ask the question, I think... what metaphors best convey true experience, learning, emotion, etc.? Not, necessarily, what features best replicate reality.

If I, Andy, seek to become better at being me, at moving down the road of my hero's journey -- at increasing my RL XP in some way -- maybe I am someone for whom the role (metaphor) in a VW of "world guardian" is that which is most apropos. Maybe I should be in control of a flock of sheep in order to understand group dynamics better. Maybe I should be the one who does nothing but design tabbards. I don't know.

In poetry, when you want to write about something, and you are very young at it, you jump write in and title your poem, "Love," or "Fear," or something. Because you want to write about what is important to you, and you go straight at it... boom! As you progress, and begin to understand the power of metaphor, you learn that direct assault upon a subject is almost always much less powerful than subtle, figurative language. Because people are hardwired, in many cases, to oppose the obvious and the direct.

So, I guess, my question becomes: is a direct representation of "the hero" character by a player in the MMO the best metaphor for understanding and growing the hero in ourselves? I'm not sure it always is. Especially as it has come to be represented in classic MMOs. And if the features/functions of the world can be altered -- maybe subtly, maybe fantastically -- in ways that help people learn more about how to proceed as heroes in their own lives... that, to me, seems like a good use of the metaphor.

135.

Andy Havens>I would be hard pressed to say, however, that as they are going through the days, months and years of play together that they are experiencing a hero's journey...

I agree, they're probably not.

>I think, though, that MMOs/VWs can be better than average entertainment / socialization vehicles both for the presentation of vicarious hero's journeys, and for the experiencing of them directly.

Perhaps. The point I'm trying to make is that (for game-like worlds, at least) virtual worlds are pretty well the ONLY places you can participate in a hero's journey directly, which accounts for much of their feel and their success. If you want to cut that part out, OK, well you could still have a virtual world. Put in something that runs counter to the hero's journey, though, and do you still have a virtual world?

>if we are learning vicariously about the hero's journey, we are usually doing so either through various explicit metaphors, or through the lens of our perceptions, which say, "Ah, if XYZ for the protagonist, so ABC for me."

Yes, that's how I see it for vicarious hero's journeys.

>If you want a VW that is so connected to people that when they do good (or bad) things there that those experiences translate almost entirely into their RL psyches -- such that they can experience a real hero's journey and not, as you say, something akin to reading a book -- you have to ask the question, I think... what metaphors best convey true experience, learning, emotion, etc.? Not, necessarily, what features best replicate reality.

This is where you lose me. If people are experiencing a hero's journey directly, why do they need a metaphor?

>If I, Andy, seek to become better at being me, at moving down the road of my hero's journey -- at increasing my RL XP in some way -- maybe I am someone for whom the role (metaphor) in a VW of "world guardian" is that which is most apropos.

Why do you believe that roles are metaphors? In what way are they metaphorical?

>So, I guess, my question becomes: is a direct representation of "the hero" character by a player in the MMO the best metaphor for understanding and growing the hero in ourselves?

The character in the virtual world isn't a representation of "the hero". It's first a representative of, then a representation of, then the actual player. It only becomes a hero when you've finished the hero's journey (ie. when it and you are coincident).

It isn't a metaphor for "growing the hero in ourselves". It may involve some metaphor elsewhere to add more nuanced meaning, but it isn't itself a metaphor: it's an actual hero's journey.

>if the features/functions of the world can be altered -- maybe subtly, maybe fantastically -- in ways that help people learn more about how to proceed as heroes in their own lives... that, to me, seems like a good use of the metaphor.

When my fellow, non-game academics ask me what it is I want as a researcher, I say "better virtual worlds" (or, depending on the context, "better games"). They will often come back to me with, "ah, but what do you mean by 'better'?". I reply that what I mean by 'better' is a 90-minute lecture, but basically it's to do with fun, which is (in virtual worlds) to do with the hero's journey and identity. Thus, I am in complete agreement with you that if we can, by tinkering with or starting afresh, design virtual worlds that help people do this, that would be great! I just don't see why you want to call it a metaphor.

Richard

136.

Richard: The point I'm trying to make is that (for game-like worlds, at least) virtual worlds are pretty well the ONLY places you can participate in a hero's journey directly, which accounts for much of their feel and their success. If you want to cut that part out, OK, well you could still have a virtual world. Put in something that runs counter to the hero's journey, though, and do you still have a virtual world?

Certainly. What basis do you have for arguing otherwise, other than RPG-inspired tradition? It may be that you can participate in a hero's journey only in a virtual world (I remain unconvinced that this has ever really happened), but that doesn't imply that without a hero's journey there is no virtual world!

So long as you have persistence separate from you (the world continues when you're gone), a sense of geography/locality, and a viewpoint (typically but not always embodied as an avatar), you have a virtual world (note for example this includes non-heroic, non-game worlds). There's no reason to bog down "first principles" with matters of taste or tradition.

I reply that what I mean by 'better' is a 90-minute lecture, but basically it's to do with fun, which is (in virtual worlds) to do with the hero's journey and identity.

For you. That's your focus, and that's fine. But that's a small slice of what's possible in a virtual world setting.

137.

Richard said: "The character in the virtual world isn't a representation of "the hero". It's first a representative of, then a representation of, then the actual player. It only becomes a hero when you've finished the hero's journey (ie. when it and you are coincident)... It isn't a metaphor for "growing the hero in ourselves". It may involve some metaphor elsewhere to add more nuanced meaning, but it isn't itself a metaphor: it's an actual hero's journey."

OK... I'm getting closer in my great, huge haid to groking what I think you're laying down.

1) Having a virtual experience of a well mediated, scripted (to some degree), interactive hero's journey does, in fact, lead to a better enough understanding and experiencing of such, to the point that one can be said to have actually completed one (on another level, of course), and;

2) A fairly one-to-one connection between player and character is necessary for the above, whether for reasons of sympathy, plot, etc., and;

3) Experiencing a virtual hero's journey is one of the key features of a VW (or at least a fun MMO).

OK. Let me know if I've got your argument boiled down in my brain (I need to repeat things in my own words sometimes to make sure I get them).

138.

Andy Havens>Having a virtual experience of a well mediated, scripted (to some degree), interactive hero's journey does, in fact, lead to a better enough understanding and experiencing of such, to the point that one can be said to have actually completed one (on another level, of course)

That's not quite it, but it's close. The hero's journey doesn't take place entirely within the virtual world, the virtual world is just a component of it. The hero's journey has three phases: departure, initiation, return. Only the middle phase takes place wholly in the virtual world. It's the player who undergoes it, not the character. Thus, you don't go on a "well-mediated, interactive hero's journey", you go to a place of excitement and adventure (which is well-mediated and interactive), and then you come back. That's how come virtual worlds enable the hero's journey - they give people the place of strangeness and wonder they need to go to in the second phase.

This is why it's an actual hero's journey, too, not a metaphorical one: the player is following the steps directly, not going through any layers of indirection.

>A fairly one-to-one connection between player and character is necessary for the above, whether for reasons of sympathy, plot, etc., and;

It's necessary not for reasons of sympathy or plot, but because you have to be reborn as you enter the world of excitement and adventure. You struggle as this new, unfamiliar self, getting to know it (and therefore getting to know you), until eventually you realise that you and your reborn self are now the same. You can't do that if you're reborn as a different self every time you play, because you lose the ability to work on the same self for long enough to change it.

>3) Experiencing a virtual hero's journey is one of the key features of a VW (or at least a fun MMO).

It's something that a game-like world can offer which nothing else can. It's not a feature of VWs in general (as Mike points out above), but it is something that pretty well always arises from game-like worlds unless you push them too far. If you do push them too far, the question is, is it still a virtual world? Under Mike's definition, a Half Life server that was never turned off would be a virtual world, but is it? If so, what do we call the ones that do enable a hero's journey, which have a qualitatively different gameplay experience?

Richard

139.

Richard, I'll grant you that a virtual world offers the possibility of enabling a hero's journey for those who enter it. But I keep waiting for examples of how this has happened.

I'm also a bit surprised to see you condense the monomyth down to three simple phases. IMO this drains the mythic vitality right out of it: where is the initial reluctance and refusal? Where is the archetypal mentor? In what way does the person (not their character) entering the virtual world undergo a meaningful ordeal? (Can fighting a boss monster or hitting max level possibly be the depth of the ordeal?) What is the reward they bring back with them to the ordinary world?

There is an element of archetypal mastery in the hero's journey -- mastery of self, of fear, of the supernatural (or virtual) world via successfully completing the ordeal, and of the ordinary world upon the hero's return. The hero becomes an instance of the archetypal Magus, with control over both worlds, changed forever from the callow youth who began the journey.

Where is this hero's journey in how players experience virtual worlds/MMOGs?

Don't get me wrong: I love virtual worlds, and as I've said I think they provide the opportunity for entirely new forms of 'fictional experience' as well as community and identity exploration. But I just do not see how the experience of the player in a virtual world maps to anything but the dimmest shadow of the hero's journey. Can you explain how you see this happening in more detail?

To your last question, I would consider a Half Life server that never turned off, and to which people returned with persistent identity as a small virtual world. On what basis would you not consider it as such? And how is the gameplay experience on such a long-running server different at all from any other standard MMO? In what ways can such gameplay be said to be heroic, or to enable the hero's journey?

140.

Mike Sellers>Richard, I'll grant you that a virtual world offers the possibility of enabling a hero's journey for those who enter it. But I keep waiting for examples of how this has happened.

Well I can describe two very strong examples of which I have personal experience, but then you could call them isolated incidences. I have plenty of anecdotal evidence, but there have been no studies on what happens when you put a complete newbie in a virtual world and watch them for 2 years. What I do have is a set of fairly anecdotal but generally accepted observations, a theory that links them together in a coherent manner that seems to have some merit to it, and a mapping of that theory onto the hero's journey. That's the best I can offer.

>I'm also a bit surprised to see you condense the monomyth down to three simple phases.

Well in the full-blown explanation I don't condense it down to 3 phases, I go through every single step and map it to the experience of players as they advance along it. It's because I do this that I'm able to point to previously observed player activity and then offer an explanation for it. It would indeed be ridiculous if I only used 3 phases. The reason I mentioned the three phases was because the middle phase is the one that primarily concerns virtual worlds; I was trying to explain why it is that the hero's journey doesn't take place entirely within the virtual world (which would make it metaphorical rather than actual).

>where is the initial reluctance and refusal? Where is the archetypal mentor? In what way does the person (not their character) entering the virtual world undergo a meaningful ordeal? (Can fighting a boss monster or hitting max level possibly be the depth of the ordeal?) What is the reward they bring back with them to the ordinary world?

I've answered all these questions and more in my book and in other articles. There's a reasonably accessible version in Massively Multiplayer Development 2; I guess I could send you a copy of this article if you wanted (hopefully the publishers won't get too cross). This thread isn't perhaps the best place to repeat it all, though.

>To your last question, I would consider a Half Life server that never turned off, and to which people returned with persistent identity as a small virtual world. On what basis would you not consider it as such?

I would consider it, although I'd probably reject it on the grounds that although the world persisted, the player characters don't.

>And how is the gameplay experience on such a long-running server different at all from any other standard MMO?

Well in an MMO, the player would feel that they were developing or advancing or improving within the context of the world. In a super-long Half Life, they might feel that their skills were improving, but their character wouldn't change because it doesn't persist long enough to have an identity.

Richard

141.

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142.

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