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Dec 17, 2005



Interesting... Just tonight I was looking for someone on an RP WoW server whose avatar name I did not know, and found myself trying to stay roughly in character by asking his guildies if they knew any character whose "pilot" was named Aidan...


What are you even talking about?


> What are you even talking about?


Given the tongue-in-cheek accounting below, I ask. Would you be more inclined to feel like a Troll? Or are Captain Poco of SS Troll Dreadnaught, Group Tank?


Captain Poco, your party has just encountered an un-ID'd humanoid patrol somewhere in the World of Warcraft...

[You:] "Pull?"
[Group:] "Warrior, pin the elite. Everyone else on the small stuff."
[You:] "Defensive stance?"
[Group:] "Nah, do it quick."

Pack the the Shield and 1H
Unpack the 2H.
Battle Stance selected.

[You:] "rdy."
[Group:] "go"

You maneuver into range.
(Final check, health? Okay.)
Initiate Charge. (Looks good)
(Rage levels, sir? Good.)
Battle shout! [Rank 4, 10 rage points consumed]
He swings, misses.
You swing, hit.
Rend! [ Rank 4, 10 rage]
Cleave! [ Rank 2, 20 rage]
He swings.
You swing. Dodged!

(Sir) Quick exploit, hit Overpower! [ Rank 2, 5 Rage ]

(Captain, Battle Shout is wavering.)
Hold off on new moves for a couple of tics -
Battle Shout!
(Okay I think he may run. Let's try a Hamstring! Rgr. Wait we've just soaked a couple of crits. Should we burn a Retaliation! {30 minute cool-down). Um. That's a negative. Squawk to team for backup)

[Group]"Heal plz"
You swing, He swings, swing, swing.
[Okay baby, been saving for this coup de grace:]
Execute! [15 rage, 5 yard meltdown...]

[Group]"lol, good work! too close"



The description in the OP reminds me a lot of my days playing Mech Warrior - the learning process is remarkably similar to learning to use an RPG avatar effectively. I think one of the fundamental differences between a cockpit and an RPG avatar is the diegetic nature of the heads-up displays (and, as Nate points out, possibly even the physical interface - something we see more highly developed in arcade driving games - incidentally, Robbie Cooper has a great picture of a truck driver who plays EVE from the "cockpit" of his 18 wheeler). The opaque elements of the screen interface (ie. the parts that aren't a "window" into the virtual world) aren't really accounted for in the RPG diegesis, even though they serve an analogous purpose. Eventually, the entire interface becomes somewhat transparent in the sense that we are not conscious of it while immersed, but I agree that a "cockpit"-based interface/diegesis can create a remarkably different overall experience. It's interesting to hear that these types of diegetic differences matter for more instrumentalist players like Nate as well, though. I didn't know y'all cared.

On an interesting side note about interfaces: Game|Life has an entry about how the changes to SWG have made it impossible for people with certain physical disabilities to play, since it is no longer possible to interact using only the mouse - you apparently need hotkeys to move now.


"Pilot" is an excellent term for a player. In all contexts except EVE, I've been using "typist," but I see how how "pilot" could apply just as well in any MMO. Or any game, for that matter.

That said, I don't find the interface makes me feel like a pilot (EVE aside, of course), even as my WoW screen fills up with extra hotbars and RogueHelpers and all kinds of other add-on interface windows and buttons. In fact, I find the wide range of abilities one has access to in WoW one of the few things that adds to my immersion in that game. Even the talent tree is something I find has become an tool to promote immersion, for me. Since I'm not very concerned about having the uber PvP spec, etc. (though perhaps this will change), I tend to think of my rogue's new talents as parts of his character, what he has chosen to train as he develops his skills. The ability to choose between a number of alternatives that seems to steer the experience away from that of being a pilot, at least for me, and more toward something akin to playing a character in whatever measure.

That said, the small part of my brain that woots when I put the finishing blow on a mob 3 levels above me always tends to congratulate me, Mark, in that quick elated moment, and not the rogue. For some reason, every time that happens, I'm left with a moment of confusion. My brain says, "Way to go, Mark," but then in the next moment thinks, "But shouldn't I be congratulating the rogue?" I suppose there must be a spectrum between occupying one's avatar as a mech-suit and occupying one's avatar as a role. I seem to occupy the gray area between the ends of that spectrum.

Actually, re-reading your post, I would say that the avatar often takes on the Scotty role -- especially in WoW, where you're constantly being told "I don't have enough energy / mana / rage / whatever." I always hear that as the (slightly annoying) voice of the avatar, not the game. Speaking of things diegetic.


I guess I was also thinking "pilot" as in "god is my co-pilot."

I do still dig Jim Gee's division of avatar, player, and player-as-avatar, but I am never quite sure which I am and when.


Reviewing Nate's article above and my own experience I would classify the experience akin to the habitation/transfiguration via Perky Pat in Dick's "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch", more than a pilot/mech relationship. When the UI is configured just right and you hit the flow within the game the separation becomes zero - the 'tweak' I feel on completing a particularly difficult task is me/avatar. The emotions are not identified as mine or it's as we've become coextensive.

Or, it may mean that it's time to change my meds. Chew-Z, anyone?


Nothing a good dose of Ubik wouldn't clear up, Doug.


Hmm. I apologize if I am misreading this, but, most of the time I notice that I tend to switch between conflating my identity with that of an avatar and sitting back and watching the narrative unfold for the character. Usually when something bad happens, it is something happening to them. I don't panic anymore when I know I am about to lose. Sometimes I get rather angry when I know a situation is developing beyond my capacity to truly change.

Like in EVE. You could just log in one day, and an alliance you've never seen before could have not one but two dreadnaughts non-chalantly pounding on the starbase you just happen to be occupying. You begin to wonder where your fleet is. It's suddenly not your avatar's story, or your fleet's fault, but YOUR fault that you didn't get involved enough every minute of last week to push the coherency and enthusiasm level of your own faction. It's personal and there's not a damn thing you can do about it except look for vulnerable support characters.

As to the actual visual aspects of the game, I believe those are just window dressing. To me, it is a pure and unadulterated ego occupying the space created between other participants. There's a nice paid forum community with a nifty free game attached. When you play chess for instance, who really spends much time contemplating that there is supposed to be a great deal of aristocratic content in it? In many unscripted artificial worlds, you get hyped up about just thinking about playing the game. When the event in question happens, an experienced participant just starts counting cards and numbers and coolly waits for them to unfold in the patterns he is expecting.

I freely admit that I am an attention whore. In fact, I think that is possibly the whole point of an artificial world. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing 40 people playing along to an operation you helped plan. Nothing is more gratifying that seeing a well crafted argument being read and appreciated by 3000 other participants. I recall that Plato issued some warning about sycophants and flatterers, but in the context of everything else he said about homonoia, I really can't remember what the significance of it was.

The level of narcissism that an artificial world allows is tremendous, and intoxicating. This is because it is almost a purely textual environment. For a personality that wishes not simply to be understood in part, but precisely, and only on selective fronts of their choosing, there is nothing more inviting. When we speak of min/maxing, we should definitely not ignore the social engineering aspect. Give participants the ability to freely represent factions of their own creation or chosing, and they will bend over backwards to present themselves as the most perfect citizens of their own prefered brand of civitas.


As much as I distaste the interface clutter barricade that most avatar-based games (single or (M)MP) rise between the player and imersiveness, I agree it can be partly overcome by contextualization.

In a mech game, or a vehicle centric game like Eve-online, the player in-game representation (humanoid or not ) is an IC proxy, one the player can funnel his/her own personality through without interference from a gamey avatar (under the best circumstances).

It leaves to the player to figure how a warp-drive equipped ship steered by a direct-to-brain interfaced pilot lacks basic tech/tactical features that are available on contemporary aircrafts, like decent radar systems and semi-smart weaponry, but all in all, you don't have to cope with the terrible 3D person muppetering or sensory-disabled 1st person nonsensical perspectives most humanoid avatar games throw at you - and it becomes possible to actually buy the idea you are crossing space, if not cruising deep-space...

That said, eve-online is more a tactical/strategy game than a MMORPG (sic RPG), and it probably helps a lot in managing players' expectations regarding their in-game personae shape and form.

Also, because few game features are devoted to simulating the avatar lifelikeness in eve-o, imagination and 'shared hallucination' are left free to fill the gaps.

Thus, by apparently adding another abstraction layer to the world-player interaction, the "pilot" metaphor can eventually facilitate player's immersion, much like a text-based game (once passed the 'convenience' barrier to entry) oftentime proves more immersive than a 3D avatar-based game where the gamey and "fake" quality of the game experience actively works towards breaking the illusion.

Happy new year, btw,

PS: Just curious GD - would you happen to be JC in game ?



by apparently adding another abstraction layer to the world-player interaction, the "pilot" metaphor can eventually facilitate player's immersion, much like a text-based game (once passed the 'convenience' barrier to entry) oftentime proves more immersive than a 3D avatar-based game where the gamey and "fake" quality of the game experience actively works towards breaking the illusion.

It startles my imagination to think of all those people who may be piloting their ships in Eve-Online, say, imagining themselves as Wookies, Ninja-Klaxons, Turtle-doves, whatever, because the avatar-as-ship makes no demands on how you imagine yourself *within* that ship.

Perhaps they just see themselves naked with long crooked toes. Is that freedom? Or just a lack of imagination?

On the other hand, if I create for you your most exquisite "3D" avatar and you grow tired of how you look...

Who is the richer?


it's not so much about 3D or not, just that in my (arguably limited) experience, the more the avatars attempt to simulate lifelike behaviours in a realistic/believable fashion, the more their fakeness shows.

There is room for improvement, obviously, and some level of AI/scripting can led avatars to behave in more consistent/believable ways, but thus doing they remove themselves further from the player who has no part in defining their body language, attitude etc.

The obvious alternative is to grant more control to the player over his avatar moves, postures etc, yet this option chances drowning the player (not to mention the network) under the flow of controls to micromanage.

Some environments allow the player to build his/her own routines to differentiate his/her character body language and just trigger sequences carefully crafted beforehand, but by the time he/she gets there the user arguably ceased to be a RPG player to turn into a GM/level designer of sorts. So no cookie.

Poor implementation is worse than no implementation in many cases.
A general assumption I make about online games is: put in only features you know how to implement very well, and trust the players to fill the gaps.

The "pilot" perspective leaves up to the player to fill the gap of what his/her character behaves like and convey that to other players over txt, all the while providing justification for a "gauges & buttons rich" interface.

The "3D humanoid avatar", because of its technical/ergonomical shortcomings, does worse than not helping, it often gets in the way of the player, distracting from more expressive means of comunication, just like bad dubbing is way more obnoxious than subs.


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