« SOP II: TN Pix | Main | A Pessimist Writes... »

Nov 02, 2004



Interesting idea, with ramifications that range from deep to trivial.

1. The bottom line of such a world would probably be "knowledge is power." If words have a direct relationship to in-world effects, then words become power... which means that the key to one's power is the level of one's knowledge of words. Who would do well in such a world? Who would tend to have trouble fitting in?

2. My first thought on reading the examples wasn't of MMOGs, but of fantasy literature, which is the most common place to encounter the "true name" concept. In this setting, every real thing has a true name, knowledge of which confers power over that thing. In Ursula K. LeGuin's original "Earthsea" trilogy, a rock can appear to be any sort of thing, but to speak its true name -- "tolk" -- is to dispel any illusions about the nature of that rock. More dramatically, this turns out to be equally true for knowledge of the true name of a person. Sheri Tepper's "True Names" novels also have something of this notion.

3. Another use of words as power in literature comes from the concept of "summoning." This can incorporate the notion that knowledge of a being's true name confers power over that being, but summoning can also mean simply uttering certain arbitrary phrases that compel obedience. Most stories of summoning powerful spirits follow this pattern, but interestingly, it can be used to attract the attention of spirits both angelic and diabolical -- Prospero manages both in _The Tempest_.

4. I suspect that actually implementing this in a MMOG would define the quest for power as attempts to discover hidden arcana. Power would come from exploration (to recover lost words of power) and experimentation (to identify hitherto unknown words of power). All other mechanics would flow from and be defined in relation to these activities.

5. As practical matters:
a. What happens to poor spellers?
b. What happens to poor typists?
c. Must a word be understood for it to have power? Or is just using it enough?
d. Could a macro be written to rapidly try all combinations of letters to spot words of power?
e. Could such a system be implemented if the inappropriate use of certain words had no negative consequences? Should there be a penalty for failing to use power words correctly and appropriately, or for using the wrong words in multi-word attempts to gain or use power?
f. Who determines what uses are "correct" and "appropriate?" Should the results of using words be emergent over time and socially determined? Or should consequences be inherent in the world's "physics" and inescapable?

Plenty of room for more speculation here!



I was trying to think of what this made me think about, and it was this prior discussion. But that was a different topic.

It have a personal intuition that making skill with language a meaningful element of game play would produce a great game -- but I'm not talking about IF here. I haven't played Facade, but maybe that's something closer to what I'm thinking about. We'll get real language into play before too long, with consistent advances in processing speech and natural language recognition. But I wonder if it will really change much -- one thing I've been picking up from our more semiotically-inclined friends is that much of MMORPG play is close to the same kind of symbol manipulation you see in conversation. (Which would make sense, if you see MMORPGs as essentially the graphical extensions of MUDs.)

Has anyone criticized EQ for being a "dumbed-down" DikuMUD just because EQ is visual, not linguistic?

Going a bit off track, does anyone know if anyone has done research on neural activity during game play -- esp. MMORPG game play? I'd be curious as to what areas of the brain are most active. You'd think in MUDs it would have been the language-processing areas, but I wonder if MMORPGs go more to spatial processing? I know people are looking at this kind of thing:


Wouldn't that be a step back in development? Away from the GUI, back to the command line interface and the parser. Unless you are talking about an ideal, non-existing computer that "understands" language, there would be a limited number of words that do something. These would quickly get compiled into lists of commands by the player base, and we would be back to the standard game, just that the command input now involves typing words, instead of clicking on buttons.


Ah, the power of speech :)

Two thoughts - firstly, if you went one further than SWG and made languages an actual limiting factor in game, requiring more than just a two minute teaching session to allow complete linguistic proficiency. Language becomes precious if not everyone has it, or has to work to gain it.
Secondly, a magic system based on syllable/phoneme combination. Tipping my hat to Dungeon Master, there could be a magic system which uses the careful combination of syllables to determine power, element, form etc. Even better, if this was controlled with voice recognition - the client based programs would 'learn' the players pronounciation of 'ra' which would be different from someone elses pronounciation.
Magic skill would then be based not only on the raw stats of the character, but the amount of time the player has spent training the voice recognition, and the ability of the player to remain calm voiced under stress.
Just some thoughts.


If all our incantations were not so spilt lightly, but carefully crafted, considered, and measured, could this not lead to role playing?

Make a language that can be used to program the world directly?

Secondly, a magic system based on syllable/phoneme combination.

In Asheron's Call, people used to be able to decypher spell components based on the words used during the invocation. I think this page describes it pretty well. The devs nerfed it when they introduced tapers and magic packs. You no longer needed to care about componnets as long you had those on hand. Treadmillers preferred it, I believe.


Combat-based muds have generally allowed the emote command (equivalent to pose, and still using the : by convention) for all levels of player since at least the early 90s. Seeing that commen from Benedikt was sort of jarring in that sense.

There are MANY folks who say that the graphical games are dumbed down because of the lack of language use. Muds in general absolutely do select for good writing on the part of players, and MUSHes and MOOs in particular, even more so. Language skill was absolutely critical on LambdaMOO, for example. Any game with an emphasis on roleplay also strongly rewards language skill.

That said, the "populist" strand would argue that requiring that level of capability is essentially a gate that many people cannot get through. It is exactly the same problem as requiring fast reflexes--a lot of folks simply can't cut it.

Over the years, I've tried implementing a lot of chat crutches that I observed in other games and tried to make use of. For example, an LP I once saw made use of simple mood tags on chats. For Legend, I expanded that out to being able to assign moods and alternate say tags to your speech:


This system was also later put into Galaxies. In both cases, the "sticky mood" feature was the most widely used--rather than "playing the moods" like a piano, most players pick one mood and permanently make their character that way. Both games also make use of "say alternates" to allow people to whisper, mutter, groan, etc. In most muds, whisper, shout, and a few others are dedicated commands that mean something different from "say." Say alts are basically cosmetic expansions to the verb set--they all point towards the same code for the say command. They don't have a sticky mode, and are mostly not used that much, I bet, however, that if there were a sticky mode, every player would use them.

Providing greater expressive freedom via tools doesn't mean that players will pick them up. An example that works better is in place in both There and Galaxies, and that's automatic parsing of chat in order to play animations. This seems to be pretty successful because you don't need to learn it.

Many muds have employed strong language systems. It's debatable whether language actually becomes precious, or just annoying.


Re; True Names

I thought MMORPGs already had this? Each person you interact with goes by a screen name. If you can discover their true name (real name), one gains great power over them. This, I think, is one case where reality has caught up with folklore.

Re: Automatic Playing of Emotes

I was quite suprised when I first noticed this. It is such a subtle thing one doesn't necessarily pick it up the first few times. When you character waves good-bye automatically it is doing what you mean, so it doesn't register. I really only noticed it when I had some miscues.

Automaticly picking up mood from the players actions is better than requiring the player to set the mood manually. It also, I think, better mimics actual real life conversation. I don't manually set myself to "Smile" or "Frown" moods, they are selected automagically. The question, of course, is if there is enough context in the chat text to reliably set these moods?

- Brask Mumei


Good points! A year and a half ago we announced supporting multi-national language barriers as a play mechanism, which was and would be ideally suited to a Frontier wilderness experience. No bonuses or other points given away for learning another language, however, only less complicated interaction, and when that happens the chat window program will brunt the load of the work and translate one language to another. (This also helps localization).

On another mnote, we have begun to work with some Native American Tribes, and they have taught us that sign language must be involved also. Their language is much more difficult to dicipher. Obviously our work is cut out for us, but it needs to happen this way.


Brask, the majority of the cues used are the emoticons that people sprinkle thru their chat on the Net quite unconsciously. So in that sense it's just design leveraging cues that players were already providing.


Raph - I remember disabling the auto emoticons when I played SWG - because the number of times I'd be 'talking' to someone in character, and some absurdly out of place animation was set off, became too frequent to tolerate. However, because as a rper I was used to most of the /emotes supported by animations in the game, I provided my own almost without thinking.

I can't remember exact examples, I just remember typing something fairly innocuous, and my character waving their arms around in a furious manner, stomping feet and frowning. I had to hastily ooc that it was a 'miss-emote'. A spelling mistake can be easily overlooked, a miss-emote for some reason isn't as easy to ignore. Or maybe we're just not as used to them.


Tinkergirl, you're already a step beyond the base user if you know how to use the built-in emotes, or the /emote command. :) The auto-emotes can be disabled precisely for the sake of people like you.


Raph - And I'm glad I had the option /beam

On another SWG reference, there was the ability to control your 'pets' with typed (spoken) commands. You could tell your pet to "stay" or "attack". These commands could be customised - which resulted in a lot of players shouting "a" and "s", as the most 'efficient' way of commanding.
This is essentially changing something in the world around you with the application of speech, but still limited. To an extent - it's the equivalent of commanding your sword to "Slash!", and not terribly different to shouting out a word for a fireball.
Are we looking for something more integrated with the world itself? Is this back to the 'changing a persistant world' desire?


Coming from "A Pessimist Writes..." thread, I think we are again stuck on a qwerty-keyboard standards.

In Asia there are different keyboard layouts and language conventions that affects communication. One example is a romanize entry method of Mandarin with numbers 1 to 4 after each syllable to indicate different tone marks. Applying this convention to English text entry you get "How1 are2 you4?"

So I would change the phrase "Language is power in MMO" to "Communication is power in MMO".

As for Nathan's thought "If all our incantations were not so spilt lightly, but carefully crafted, considered, and measured, could this not lead to role playing?"

I think the interesting syntax we currently use are already role-playing conventions. The funny thing is that while people are already using quotation gestures, they are starting to gesture in real life "asterisks".



The funny thing is that while people are already using quotation gestures, they are starting to gesture in real life "asterisks".

If "text" becomes a "language choice" that transcends actual interface and communication mediums - what does that mean/say? For example, in the past, when it made sense, I used to play with guilds that used team speak (voice).

While voice was clearly superior to text in tactical situations (e.g. combat), I actually found the sort of communication that took place outside of tactical combat situation, very different. I'm also not sure it was superior. Text kept it abstract, while voice seemed to drag RL into it too much - just look at the nature of story-telling and wit in conversation vs. text chat.

Perhaps "text" can be a communication style choice - and not a medium choice. It boggles the mind as to what that means in terms of interface and mapping into comms.


I think that text can be a style choice and is the choice for many as a form of communications.

And I do see much integration of different styles to create a new style of communication. Movies using comic book panes; books using action movies conventions; adding emotes to text, etc.

As for MMO communication style, different sub-styles are suited for different form of gameplay. Teamspeak + gestures + abbreviated text for FPS, long prose for RPs, etc.

If MMO become culturally mainstream, new words and gestures will have the same culture effect as the currently hip phrase "perfect storm." Then maybe VW-phases will have "magic" in RL



I've been following type of thinking of a while. Nice article. I've started posting on my Livejournal about a game I created for the Chat environment. Players can edit a work a gamemaster types (for a point). There's a small transcript posted on the journal.

I've also done some work on using symbols to impart meaning online and continue to investigate this.

Nice blog.




The comments to this entry are closed.