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Musing 02

The random thought that crossed my feeble little mind invokes a question that I’m sure I’m just not smart enough to tackle. The ladies at Flavor Text have smart things to say about story, which is where I’m sort of going with this post. Their essential point HERE is that the MMOG is still young, the structure of the art form is evolving release to release, and we don’t know where it’s going. I think that summarizes pretty well what I’ve been reading on the ‘net. Yeah, it’s different. That’s the phrase I here. Followed by: “Begone cave dweller!”

I’ve put in my share of maxing out characters in an MMO, enough to have some room to say what that end game is like. I found some dead neurons this weekend along the way in playing a pen and paper game that made me realize that, “Oh hey, I remember when video games aspired to this.” To an extent it is story. It seems like there’s a finite playspace for an MMO that inherently makes every character the same as every other. A feature, I think, of a world-state that is inflexible. Every rogue I start out with will go through the exact same set of quests, or nearly so, and the number of times I killed Fippy Darkpaw is in such large number that it makes me ponder the situation. Our prismatic identities are defined by who we encounter and what we do and if we all encounter the same thing, then that makes every character effectively the same. I’m pretty sure on this count and I’m using Pac-Man as my example.

In that iconic game, players play as a chomping pizza box gobbling up what looks like glowing dots of some illicit substance scattered about a rat like maze. Each game begins in round 1, and while you can avoid the ghosts, or even eat them, your character is confined by the rules of the space. At the end of the stage? You’re still a chomping pizza box. I think the modern MMOG is really the same thing. You can try to decouple from the rules, but there’s not much you can do.

Grumpy old man (GM) here playing a pen and paper game with some players. The players chose to avoid the heart of the canned adventure, bypassing even the clever puzzle I wrote earlier and choosing instead to attempt to navigate the forest in search of some random thing that they only know about. Suddenly, we were collectively in this new territory where the books only mattered enough to keep encounters running while the game became ad-hoc in a game world that really doesn’t exist yet because even the GM hasn’t really prepared anything beyond some broad, high level sketches. And any future adventurers that come down that particular path? Well, there’s no certainty. It could be that the entire forest is burned down. Doing that in the current incarnation of a MMOG would cost a large fortune.

In a pen and paper it’s just four words: Forest has burnt down. Now everything any former player might know about the area is suspect. Entire settlements are wiped from the map. Bad guys might be good guys. How that changes the equations.

Then I think about the nature of gaming and the Theory of Fun, and think it’s really about learning, but to an extent it’s optimization too. Especially in gear collection games. You’re optimizing for the best gear possible based on your available resources – story be damned. In a pen and paper game, it can be that depending on who is running the campaign. But, more interestingly, it’s about the identity of your character. If you choose to blow up Waterdeep, well, more power to you. What’s next?


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