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May 03, 2004

Comments

1.

Domain name is registry says the contact for wildwestsim.com is [email protected]

www.mytica.com is a costa rica mail-order bride website.

What's up with that?

2.

hmm, the plot thickens...

3.

Hi everyone,
Let's clear up a few things here. First off all, it is very easy to take things the wrong way in text communication, such as the article above.

Female characters in WildWestSim are NOT there simply for procreation or prostitution. They can choose from all the same character classes, skill paths, and careers that males can, however IN ADDITION to that, they can provide additional roles in the game if the player wishes to do so.
So, in actuality, it can be said that female characters can do slightly more than their male counterparts. :-)

As for the "MyTica.com" reference, it has absolutely nothing to do with WWS. Trisha registered the WWS domain name and she used to work at MyTica, and so that address was still listed at the registrar, however, I think the record has since been updated.

If anyone has further questions, I would be glad to answer them directly, which is much better than people guessing and jumping to conclusions.
;-)

Regards,

-Anastasia Odiakova
Beta Liason
www.WildWestSim.com

4.

Any comments on the fact that all the "game art" I see on your site is incredibly racist? Can I play an Asian-american railway worker, and will I have beady eyes and bright, yellow skin? That sure is MY "romantic" vision of the wild west.

5.

I'm not sure what "game art" you are talking about because no official screenshots have been released yet.
You can be whomever you want to be. If you don't like the avatars that are provided in the game, you are allowed to upload your own.
It's all up to the players.

-Anastasia Odiakova
Beta Liason
www.WildWestSim.com

6.

Wasn't the Wild West one of the settings that never worked according to Richard Bartle's book?

7.

The screenshot I linked to in my post is part of the Warcry article and labeled "No, this is not our image, this is from Wild West Sim." While it may not be an "official screenshot," it is presented as WWS art. I can only note it looks very similar in style to what you see at the official site via a pop-up box soliciting for testers. It'd be interesting to get a bit of follow-up on this from Anastasia and maybe even some comments to the issues the author of the Warcry article raised. I'd be interested in hearing more how the design team is approaching implementing factions via race and any challenges that come up with that approach. My broader question (for us all) is how are things complicated by importing "RL identities" (for lack of a better term) into a game? What are the uses and limits for doing so? Are there (or what kinds of) additional considerations the designer must then attend to? There has been some attention to this around Medal of Honor (see also GGA's thread on it) for example. Are there unique effects/considerations when tied to a multiplayer experience?

I'm not sure I find the line that it's easy to misunderstand things very compelling, at least in this instance. Or maybe it's just that we hear that kind of thing a lot in situations like this. While clarifications are definitely good and I appreciate Anastasia taking the time to reply here, they're rarely instant discussion closers. I don't think anyone thought that pregnancy or prostitution would be the only possible activity women could do - it's more a question of how things get framed and what is noted as particularly valuable. As a first bit of PR around women and this game, I still say it falls short. It's easy to just say "you jumped to conclusions" which is (at least in part) why I purposely tried to link this incident to other things that have occured recently as a way of broadening out the discussion some. The issue of patterns is an important one.

Thanks Jeff for a bit of sleuthing on the domain name. I admit I had some pause about the whole thing and the info you posted is... interesting. Though Anastasia has given some context.

8.

BioWare is probably a little better than most, but still has a *long* way to go. While there aer some strong female characters in nearly every official module and Forgotten Realms, while not exactly a feminist milieu, isn't inherently sexist or racist. TSR has come a long way since the early days of chainmail bikinis, though "the market" keeps whispering in their ear to keep with the "sexist outside, not entirely offensive inside" design. WotC was, from the beginning very sensitive about sexism, especially in the editorial department. BioWare inherited this all when it came to making Neverwinter Nights, but BioWare doesn't have the same corporate culture. They just have to please the brand owners, which often cuts against the conventional wisdom of the video game trade -- sex sells games and the only "race" issue is whether you choose to be a dwarf or an elf.

The designers at BioWare have been on record as saying that it isn't an issue for them, that anyone who is bothered by sexism or racism in their games is being oversensitive. It's really rather shocking to read some of their comments on the forums whenever someone brings up the issue of race or sex. I don't know if they just don't care, are just plain clueless, or are actively sexist and/or racist.

I can understand Anastasia's defensiveness. BioWare is in much the same position. Sometimes being on the inside means not being able to see what your game looks like to those on the outside. I don't have any idea what the Wild West game is about and don't have any plans to play it. Not because of what's being discussed here, but because MMORPGs just aren't my thing anymore.

Really, the entire game industry has to change. I don't think changing one company at a time is going to do much. If they do poorly, the industry is going to hold that up as proof that sexism and racism sells and they can't afford to be socially conscious. If the game does well, they'll rationalize some other reason for it doing well because the conventional wisdom is that sexism and racism are non-issues. There's just no winning.

If the game industry is going to change, that means our entire culture is going to have to change. Racism and Sexism (and I might add homophobia which is incredibly strong and wildly overt as well) are virulent diseases that are spread across the globe. We will win in the end, but it will probably not be in my lifetime, or the lifetime of anyone who reads this blog. That saddens me to no end, but if things are to get better at some point in the future, we have to keep working now to show it for what it is. If the game designers are offended, well, too freaking bad. Game Designer isn't an oppressed class of persons last I checked. Game designers are more likely to be the oppressors than the oppressed. And oppressors almost *never* see clearly how they are oppressing others. Even when someone like Thomas Jefferson finally sees the injustice -- he didn't free his slaves right then and there, set up his mistress with a nice townhouse in the city, he promised to free them some years after his death. So too will it go with game designers.

We have to keep pointing it out, strongly and loudly. They'll see it someday. Until they look through our eyes, they'll never see it. Makes me think outsourceing isn't that bad an idea after all. Though, they'll probably just blame it on the "foreigners".

Sigh. Someday this war's going to be over.

9.

Divine Shadow>Wasn't the Wild West one of the settings that never worked according to Richard Bartle's book?

The problems are practical and moral.

Practical first: if it has equalisers (ie. anyone can buy a shotgun and empty it into the head of anyone else) then the setting won't work. That assumes, of course, that emptying a shotgun into a character's head will do more than give them a headache.

There's also the practical problem of different grades of opposition. As Damion Schubert put it, you kill natives and Mexicans, gain in experience, and then what? You kill bigger natives and Mexicans?

There are moral problems with the Wild West to do with gender and race, as have been pointed out already (and which should be immediately obvious from the previous paragraph, too!). The era of the Wild West had social conventions that are not in keeping with today's view of the world, therefore the developers have a dilemma: do they sacrifice the legend to placate the modernists, or do they hold to the legend to placate the romantics? Either way, they lose players. I guess they could do both (have some servers that hold to the legend and some that don't); they'll still be criticised, but they won't necessarily lose many potential players (just people who weren't going to play anyway).

Briefly, the problem with gender is that there were very few female personalities (let alone gunslingers) in the legendary Wild West. Female players who like the genre would have to play as male characters to be true to it. This annoys some people because they don't see that they should have to play the opposite gender, and others because they don't see that social constraints of the past should be perpetuated in more enlightened times. Female US cavalry officers - sure, why not?

The problem with race is two fold. Firstly, 25% of cowboys were , yet again there were very few personalities that fitted the description. If 25% of the players take on the roles of dark-skinned characters, then we can expect 25% of the personalities to be dark-skinned - not true to the legend. However, if the players all play light-skinned characters, that means the 25% of cowboys who were dark-skinned are being painted out of the picture (which is going to annoy people who want to play dark-skinned characters, and people who have dark skin in RL).

The second problem with race is that some of the factions of the Wild West were (historically, as well as in legend) split along racial lines. A Sioux brave isn't going to have very dark or very light skin, and will have particular facial features. If you want to play as a Sioux brave, then unless you're a native American in RL you're going to be playing across RL race. This can be offensive to people whose race you're playing, and is like a magnet for people who want to make RL points under the cloak of "role-playing".

What I suspect we'll see is a modified legend, where all the US side conforms to a modern-day vision of an egalitarian utopia, where no matter what the colour of your skin or the contents of your jeans, you can go and shoot bad guys with the best of them. As for who those bad guys might be, well there could be a Fantasy element, there could be a use of NPCs for natives and Mexicans (although that's not going to make any RL natives or Mexicans any happier) or the whole structure of Wild West society can be mapped onto the US side and natives be either made invisible or treated just like everyone else.

Whatever happens, it involves a lot of pushing at the legend or pushing at the players.

Richard

10.

James Au has written some interesting comments on these issues in SL -- a world where the users can choose to switch gender/race any time that they want. These are older posts but worth the review given this discussion:

White Like Me
Online, In Closet
Online Tootsie

11.

Oh now don't be too hard on WWS. Now I can finally realize my lifelong dream of sitting by the teepee combing my long black hair with exquisite beaded jewelry I made myself while tending the papoose. Do you think I'll get to meet Kevin Costner?

12.

Richard: As Damion Schubert put it, you kill natives and Mexicans, gain in experience, and then what? You kill bigger natives and Mexicans?

Talk about being locked inside the box ;) I'm beginning to think that perhaps I'm the only one who'd rather persistent gaming be used as an opportunity to break the tired 'bigger stick/bigger foozle' 'progression' in roleplaying games. At the risk of turning this back into a design preference thread, I dare say that you are right: An EQ/Diku/Merc-styled Wild West theme could never really be pulled off without boldly shattering the context. That isn't to say however, that no game design is capable of meeting the technical challenges.

To swerve back to the topic at-hand: the moral problems, on the other hand, are largely insurmountable without also tossing almost all of the original context aside. Setting out to make a commercial Wild West story in today's world essentially requires it to be heavily romanticized. I think the problem Wild West Sim is shaping up to have (judging from the article and few pieces of 'official art') - is not diverging enough from the perspective of popular opinion. Or, if you prefer, aiming towards a too-broadly unpopular caraciture of the period.

As for Bioware - I think one has to stretch quite a bit to level charges of racism/sexism against them. I can understand being disenchanted with a lack of default portrait options in the BG series, but I can't understand attributing that to malice. After all, their games feature a distinct lack of hispanic portraits/characters as well - yet that isn't being discussed.

13.

Also along the lines of "What Women Want" -- Second Life recently changed the female AV sit position to one that one female online player categorized as, "I haven't sat like this since I was in Sunday school." It was the dainty, hands-crossed-across-the-lap look from the Gibson Girl era that put many of the female players up in arms. Referenced are the links that discuss the pro's and con's of the AV sit. From what I read, it looks as if the original female sit was more "adult" and didn't sit well in the welcome area when AV's would be less than modest meeting new members:

http://forums.secondlife.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=8857

http://forums.secondlife.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=8879

http://forums.secondlife.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=9450

http://forums.secondlife.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=8506

14.

Hanna> "Game Designer isn't an oppressed class of persons last I checked."

ROFL! Seriously, this is a good thing to keep in mind -- sometimes I get the impression that we're obeying a modified version of Asimov's first law here: "We must not injure a game dev or, through inaction, allow a game dev to come to harm." :-)

I was going to do a separate post on MMORPGs and race issues, because Eric Hayot and Ted Wesp did a paper on that at the Princeton conference that was really interesting: "More on Race and Style in Ergodic Literature." And I never posted here on Jerry Kang's paper that deals with race and MUDs. But now that TL brought up the issue (and I've been posting too much anyway), here's Nick Monfort's hyper-condensed summary of what Hayot and Wesp said:

"Aarseth argues that video games typify "ergodic literature." Success means maintaining tension with rules. Common ploy: replace symmetrical, standard pieces of chess with Age of Kings-style choices of different pieces. Pieces have more semiotic presence than in chess, more representational, related to, e.g., the historical Byzantine Empire. Game form can shape understanding of cultures; superiority of Mongols as archers is encoded as high ability. Coercive memeticism, ethnic writers expected to write in an ethnic style. Players are disciplined to use strategies that accord with their in-game ethnicity. Racial logic, of the sort that encodes the Chinese as rapidly reproducing and able to build up their population, is even clearer in fantasy worlds where races are not real (and do not map easily)."

Anyway, it's a good paper to read on this, but what I wanted to tie it to was that review of Blizzard's WoW that we were discussing here a bit back. The relevant section was the analysis of -- what else -- races, e.g.:

Tauren... the Taurens go far beyond just a simple Native American vibe to be true lords of the plains.... They are a spiritual people who put new Tauren player characters through a series of rites of passage, including following the path of a spirit wolf.... Taurens have a quest requiring them to chase a kodo herd across the grass fields of Mulgore, as close to a fantasy game recreation of a buffalo hunt as you'll ever come.... The Tauren homeland of Mulgore is "big sky country," Montana to the Africa of the Barrens. Taurens prowl under pine trees for pine cones, visit the wells dotted around their plains and work to keep the rapacious goblin-run Venture Company from encroaching on too many of their sacred sites....

Orcs....Orcs in general are massive, savage looking and not anyone you'd want to meet in a dark alley... Beyond Durotar itself, central Kalimdor spreads out into the enormous plains of the Barrens, a fantasy African savanna with kodo beasts, alien giraffes, raptors and gazelle. It's a setting that seems so perfect and right that, in retrospect, you can't believe that no one has done it before....

Trolls...While Warcraft players know them by their Jamaican accents, voodoo-flavored culture and wild hairstyles, the trolls are also cruel, sadistic and evil, the sort of creatures who would trap the soul of an enemy's loved one to use as a bargaining chip. Reflecting the culture of the nearby Echo Islands, they bring a funky, hippie feel to the World of Warcraft.

Since I'm not on the WoW Beta, I haven't read the "text" in question, so I can't vouch for the accuracy of the reviewer's associations.

I know there are plenty of people looking at gender representation in games. Any references to people/papers doing analyses of racial representation in games?

15.

RB:
Hmm I think the problem here is that you are saying that you have to be quite accurate to be a wild west game. I don't think this is the case, your average Fantasy wouldn't make it under that standard.
Anybody doing a wild west game just has to bite the bullet and put in stuff that may not be historically accurate, they must at least be in keeping with the feeling of the genre.

16.

Weasel>I'm beginning to think that perhaps I'm the only one who'd rather persistent gaming be used as an opportunity to break the tired 'bigger stick/bigger foozle' 'progression' in roleplaying games.

Well no, of course you're not the only person who thinks that. I, for one, would like to see much more variety in virtual worlds than we have at present (or are ever likely to get!).

If people are doing a Wild West virtual world, they pretty well have to come up with a different take on how it works, because of the problems they would get if they were to stick with the traditional approach. This isn't to say that a virtual Wild West wouldn't work, but it is to say that one with equalisers or with a kill-the-natives dynamic wouldn't work.

Richard

17.

Factory>Hmm I think the problem here is that you are saying that you have to be quite accurate to be a wild west game.

What I'm saying is that the traditional view of the Wild West, as portrayed in movies and books, is a particular genre with its own particular rules and its own particular reasons for having those rules. Some people will be content with playing to the general spirit of the rules, modified to be more acceptable to people of the present day, and some people will prefer to play to the traditional rules and the core values that these imbue.

There's a lot of psychology going on in Wild West mythology. It's loaded with symbollism. For some people, interfering with the syntax (eg. allowing half the 7th cavalry to be female) interferes with the semantics; for others, this is an opportunity to repurpose the myth for a contemporary audience, and therefore different semantics are called for.

>Anybody doing a wild west game just has to bite the bullet and put in stuff that may not be historically accurate, they must at least be in keeping with the feeling of the genre.

No Wild West game is going to be historically accurate because the whole genre is mythologised. While based in historical fact, it has become embelished, romanticised and signified over time. It's not quite as divorced from reality as, say, Arthurian myth, but it's a lot further from it than, say, M*A*S*H was from the Korean War.

Richard

18.

T.L.:
> Thanks Jeff for a bit of sleuthing on the domain name.

What sleuthing... I was looking for a costa rican mail-order bride.

19.

I just visited Jeff's page and found this little essay on "why humans suck" in RPGs, which adds a pretty interesting gameplay dimension to racial (species?) differences.

http://mythical.blogspot.com/2003_12_21_mythical_archive.html#107248111072433795.

Eric and Ted's paper on Civilization pointed out the same point -- that to be a member of the "human race" in EQ and most MMORPGs is to be very bland but unlimited. In other words, the "human race" is pretty much the absence of interesting features.

20.

greglas> "I just visited Jeff's page and found this little essay on "why humans suck" in RPGs, which adds a pretty interesting gameplay dimension to racial (species?) differences."

It seems that Jeff has read my mind!

I've long lamented that every RPG seems eager to make humans suck. And I think Jeff hits it right on the head - it is the baseline effect. Define humans as the baseline, and all species as exagerations along some axis. As classes (or playstyles) tend to lie along axes, it follows no one wants to be human.

(Of course, D&D poured salt on the wound by making humans short lived compared to all the other species, making spells like Haste suicidal to use)

The solution is to not add different species unless you have a compelling difference for them. It should be apples & oranges, not "+1 Str vs +1 Int".

- Brask Mumei

21.


The solution is to not add different species unless you have a compelling difference for them. It should be apples & oranges, not "+1 Str vs +1 Int".

A "content" issue conspires against this. Too much variability implies a great deal more unique content and game design to support.

E.g., how similar are avatar categories now? Just about always bipedal, humanoid, do equivalent things... Interchangable cogs in a VW machine.

For example, could there ever be a WWS where one can play (in a long term role-playing sense) either the humans OR the horses?

IMO, to get around this, VWs are going to have to somehow figure out a way of doing that old AD&D multiverse magic: allow many parties to design their corners of the universe and lash 'em together within a common framework.

Unfortunately, software and media gums up the works. sigh.

22.

Nate> Unfortunately, software and media gums up the works. sigh.

And, back to the original topic, identity politics might "gum up the works" too!

Cory> [cites WJA's articles]

Those are great to read, Cory. Identity politics, meaning *RL* identity politics, are obviously alive and well in VWs. (The Kang article in HLR makes the same point.)

23.

Nathan> "A "content" issue conspires against this. Too much variability implies a great deal more unique content and game design to support."

Of course it does!

But this just reveals that when most developers add their dwarves and elves, they are just ticking off a feature sheet rather than adding useful content. I'd rather they add no races, (or make them all exactly the same except for the polygon mesh) then pretending they are adding content by twiddling with a spreadsheet.

Why is it that they are willing to pay the very high art asset cost of supporting these various races, but not willing to pay any programming cost to make the differentiation interesting?

- Brask Mumei

24.

Just wanted to toss in a belated link to Waterthread's 26 April post on the WWS topic - http://f13.net/2.php?subaction=showfull&id=1082991597&archive=&start_from=&ucat=2& . Cevik puts a bet on it being vaporware and with no more word from Anastasia (not to mention some strong critiques here), I'm somewhat inclined to agree.

25.

TL>Cevik puts a bet on it being vaporware and with no more word from Anastasia (not to mention some strong critiques here), I'm somewhat inclined to agree.

Mmm (cross threading as usual), anyone have any numbers on the % of MMOs that go to term?

I assume the main drop off point is mid development through companies just running out of cash or breaking up, but I wonder how many that make it to trial never make it to release. Or is just too much money sunk not to try to get at least some subscriptions in?

26.

Hi everyone, I'm still here, just taking in all the responses to this thread. After our WarCry interview, many people wondered why we waited so long into the development cycle before announcing the game. Well, the question of "vaporware" is exactly the reason. It was only until a few weeks ago that WildWestSim development reached the point where the possibility of vaporware was behind us enough to start promoting.

Yes, while it's possibly for any product to be shelved at any time in the dev cycle, companies like LucasArts and Microsoft can afford to waste a few hundred thousands dollars on a failed project. However, a small company like WWS, that has devoted all resources to a single product, cannot afford to just up and quit. Our investors would see to it that our team would be coding their next project by pecking keys with a straw in their mouth. (Knowwhattamean?) :-[

Anyway, screenshots will be released soon, and after that, the trailer(s).

Skepticism of great ideas is a natural, healthy reaction. If there are people saying "No way, this is too-good-to-be-true", then I know we've got a winning idea. :-)

Regards,

-Anastasia Odiakova
Beta Liason
WildWestSim.com

27.

Please excuse my English grammar mistakes in the above post.

Too many late nights spent with the nocturnal developers. :-]

Thank you,

-Anastasia

28.

Anastasia>Skepticism of great ideas is a natural, healthy reaction. If there are people saying "No way, this is too-good-to-be-true", then I know we've got a winning idea. :-)

Skepticism of crappy ideas is a natural, healthy reaction as well. Don't confuse the two.

29.

Sorry I showed up late for this one - but I am surprised how unimaginative many of the comments here have been considering that this blog boasts itself "hivemind."

So much of what has been discussed here is simply banter, and sounds like it is coming from people who do not know how to walk the talk. However, this is also a symptom of 21st century free publishing.

While Richard brings up some valid challenges about setting a game in the far west period, he failed to read one of the most profound projects facing all of these challenges. I really suggestthat you read up on this fresh approach, I think you will be surprised. Especially the recent forum posts about Race and Reputation on the Frontier1859.com site. The conversation on 'reputation" is of special note as it describes how they plan to implement various perspectives on Social Groups moral issues.

Reghardless of their lack of mention among your gorup, they have proposed some genius solutions to the challenges you speak of, and many of those implementations are being shared with the public for pre-production evaluation. Also of note, they were interviewed on OMGN and provided quite and interesting answer when asked about propagating female stereotypes. They are drawing content from women writers such as Susan Butrille's "Women's Voices from the Western Frontier" which provides narratives from both sides. So much for the "legendary west" spin generated by that period, but then again - it needs a modern approach, but not in political correctness, but rather truth. They are going for the real thing - as more and more material about women, and the whole survival in the frontier is finally being brought to light.

It is about time. I beleive that if you dare read up on this project - you'll find that they are approaching it the right way, and one would think this kind of approach would be of interest to many here!?

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