Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Four levels and a funeral

I've been playing alot of the warhammer endless trial recently, just in case it wasn't obvious :)

And because you will end up 'dying' quite a bit in it, it makes me wonder what on earth is the point of depicting death in mmorpgs?

Granted in lord of the rings online your not supposed to die but simply have your morale beaten and you retreat, but given the format is exactly the same as death in other mmorpgs, it doesn't feel any different. Like a short cut scene of the character clutching his side and shuffling away would show he's just really hurt and retreating.
It's only a flesh wound!

I mean, what is so much the thrill of 'ohh, yeah, killed ya...oh there you are, fifteen seconds latter?' that you need to preserve it?

It's kind of like one of those glaring graphic glitches that makes your characters head dissapear or all the trees turn into solid colour blocks. It kind of spoils things?

Here with death, your character like totally died...but he's alive...oh he died...oh he's alive. It feels more like a big presentation bug.

If he retreats though, clutching his side, there's continuity.

If you want some gore, you could even have the character lose fingers and toes or even a hand (quickly replaced with a hook or magical construct) and the 'killing' player gets notified, so he gets his gory jollies (well, what else would you call it?). From what I've heard this can happen in, of all places, puzzle pirates - you can lose an arm or leg and get a peg leg or hook. BUT also like puzzle pirates you would have items to regrow fingers or hands/feet/forarms. Usually with the magic or technology in most settings, this is fairly believable (far more believable than perfect ressurection any time you want it).

Lord of the rings online (LOTRO) almost broke out of it - and maybe it's unfair to say given that it still seems to be a death system in LOTRO because it looks like death in every other mmorpg. But it still leaves you being ravaged by monsters and then...popping up elsewhere. You wouldn't do such a harsh transition in a movie - you would explain with a short cut away what happened in between.

Death - you can't have it, mmorpgs (because of your own design choices)! So quit trying to pretend its happening and just smooth out the wounded retreat presentation.

It's like the want to be macho manly 'you can totally die in our game', except it's faux-macho, because even the most minor amount of critical thought disproves that idea. But maybe alot of people (men?) can't give up that bullshit?


  1. "the most minor amount of critical thought"

    Wait, we're supposed to *think* about these things? Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

    ...yeah, it's pretty silly. There are a LOT of things that break down with a bit of thought. Perhaps games in general succeed often because thinking *isn't* part of the process.

  2. I'm not sure if I'm reading you right, but no - in nethack, you can scientifically prove that you do die alot, or atleast that you can die (the words 'you die' meaning your playing piece and everything else can reset right to the start).

    And really if there's sufficient lack of thought, ANYTHING can suceed - simply because no ones thinking whether the emperor is naked or not. It'd be kind of terrible if games in general are suceeding due to lack of thought.

  3. "It'd be kind of terrible if games in general are suceeding due to lack of thought."

    I think that they are, in large part. To many, that's the point of games (or any other entertainment, really); turn off the brain and have some mindless fun. To be sure, that's not always the case, even within any given game, but if people wanted to think during their entertainment time, the industry wouldn't have Modern Warfare 2 or the GTA games at the top of the charts.

    That's not necessarily a bad thing, because everyone needs time to just tune out and destress. There are also fantastically thought-provoking or thought-requiring games and entertainment out there. The industry isn't a wasteland of mediocrity. It's just... entertainment on the whole isn't the same thing as school or a jaunt through the library. It's not supposed to be.

    I'm all for more thinking. I wish games were smarter and asked for more thinking from players. There are games that do. They just aren't the mainstream. Most players just want to be entertained, and that doesn't require much brainpower. Logical inconsistencies are just glossed over if there's fun to be had.

    I'm not even convinced that's bad... it just means that game logic and setting doesn't always hold up under critical thinking. A game that was built with more logic involved could certainly be fun, too, but it would be a different kind of fun.

  4. I'm actually talking very mild critical thinking - as in if you have 'killed' someone, then you see them again five minutes latter, you probably didn't really kill them.

    This isn't deep thought, this is a 'sock first THEN shoe' level of thought.

    I mean, are you literally saying these people as they play are in no part of their mind mulling over that the guy they 'killed' isn't dead? Their literal brain pattern is 'Hah, I killed 'em! Killed 'em!'?

    You think this isn't bad? What if you had a game which had people literally thinking 1+1=3, over and over for hours at a time?

    The human brain is a learning mechanism - synapses that fire together, wire together. Particularly when there is no critical thought (even at the socks then shoes level).

    I would actually call the 1+1=3 game, if entered into without critical thought, an excercise in mental retardation. You might say it wouldn't be, but that's exactly your critical thought screening out the muck, and were talking no critical thought!

    Are you sure people don't even do mild thinking during games?

  5. It's more like games are using a different language to different ends. It's not so much 1+1=3, it's more like "dog+pony=show". It's decidedly formulaic and Pavlovian (often working best *without* thought, yes), but it's not necessarily *trying* to rewrite morals, ethics, math understanding and the like. (Whether or not it does is incidental... relevant, but not always intentional.)

    Some games do require thought and spur interesting thoughts, but many simply function as a way to spend time, expressly to avoid thinking, at least in the same way as we might in "real life". That's the point of escapist entertainment. Disengage brain, be entertained. The Pavlovian reward cycle is ever more apparent in something like WoW or Facebook games.

    I'm not saying that's ideal (though it can be healthy to give the brain a rest at times), just how they have been working to date, and will likely largely continue to function. There are games like Professor Layton where the whole point is to engage the brain because some players find that fun (me included), but those aren't the big sellers.

  6. 'but it's not necessarily *trying* to rewrite morals, ethics, math understanding and the like. (Whether or not it does is incidental'??

    Wha? If no one intends the mental rewriting, then it's okay and we just ignore how were being rewritten? As long as no one intends anything to do with it, whether brains are being rewritten in some way is incidental?

    Is this how some significant demographic treats things? As long as no one intends the beetles to scurry in through the ear and into the brain, it's okay that they are there (to use a blunt analogy)?

    That's like some Orwellian thing?

  7. "relevant, but not always intentional.", a clear qualifier.

    We're *always* being rewired by what we take in. It's up to the individual to monitor and filter input, parsing data via critical thinking. If anything is Orwellian, it's when the State tries to monitor (or administer) it, no matter how altruistic one believes the State to be.

    In other words, it's up to the individual to think, not for the devs to try to make them think. Devs can (and I argue, should) make things worth thinking about, and shun psychological manipulation, but the burden of actual thought has to lie with the end user.

    Taking a step back, why do humans indulge in fantasy and flights of imagination? Games fall pretty squarely in the "fiction" realm of human communication. Is critical thinking part of fiction? Can that be applied to games, and how?

    I've argued before for more reality in games. I believe that a logical sense of consequences would benefit game worlds greatly. More than once, a counterargument is offered, something to the effect of "players don't want realism, they want plausibility (to convince themselves their choices are valid), fun and wish fulfillment". Perhaps the same could be said of those deeply involved with finance or politics. ("The market always goes up!" is absolute nonsense, and completely ignorant of fundamental principles of math, but we've been told that for so long, many take it as the gospel truth... rewiring on a societal level. Politics is full of manipulation, and worth many articles on its own.)

    Maybe games are the illogical fluff they are because players aren't demanding better. When WoW is the big money maker, but logic, realism and consequences are minimized, devs seeking to make money would be foolish not to see a trend there.

    So yes, I think society at large just doesn't want to think; many people just want to be coddled and entertained. Seeing symptoms of that in gaming isn't a surprise.

    Note, I'm not arguing that such a state of affairs is a good thing. It most certainly is not. It's simply the way things are, and the way devs can make money. Look at Zynga, for crying out loud. It's *not* good, but it's profitable. In a world where doing good (giving people thoughtful and moral entertainment) doesn't pay off in the markets, what impetus is there to do good? It has to come from personal conviction, and it does sometimes, but it's hard to run a business that way. Not impossible, and definitely worth trying, but not easy.

  8. I'm not really talking responsiblity as yet...I'm saying what you've suggested scares me. Doesn't it scare you? People play a game and 'kill' the other player character, but don't think enough to percieve it's not a kill at all? It's like your saying people in general think there are fairies at the bottom of their garden (though that actually isn't as scary to me, it's the same principle).

    Moving back to the main topic, I always have this distance between a game that says one thing is happening, when nothing like it is happening. So if an enemy simply lost a finger or two and was said to retreat, and there was some dexterity penalty or such and they did indeed retreat, I don't have to keep setting up this distance between what the game says and what indeed is happening.

    Having to set up a BS filter detracts from play.

    Of course if what your saying is at all true, people who don't think at all don't have to worry about that detraction at all! They don't have a problem running BS filters, because they don't run BS filters! :(

  9. Indeed, it is scary. That's part of why I don't play M rated games. I maintain that it can be healthy to engage in flights of fancy (Syp had a good post up a little while back about J.R.R. Tolkien ruminating on the place of fiction and fantasy), but yes, there is always the potential for it to be a problem.

    And yes, if people aren't developing those filters, that's a problem. I've long been concerned with the desensitization inherent in "mature" games and the bizarre notions they present as "normal".

    My point isn't that such is a good thing, just that it's rampant in games. The innocuous games that let us depressurize can be healthy (I love Tetris and other puzzle games like Lumines or Puzzle Pirates), but there is a LOT of stuff that should trip up BS filters, but just doesn't because they have been worn down or ignored. (The same could be said of any entertainment, by the way, or even of things like politics.)

    There are more troubling things to consider than the surrealism of HP, Dex scores or the notion of retreating from battle.

    That said, more than once I've explained WoW or LOTRO to my three year old as a game where nothing truly dies, they just get knocked out and come back for another round. It's a bit of a kludgy explanation, but fair enough, given respawns and the immortality of the player character. Of course, it underlines the vapidity of it all; these MMO things are sort of a reskinned Sisyphian Valhalla with lots of fighting and no real progress in the long run, and plenty of nonsensical notions in the meantime.

  10. I'm not thinking in terms of game conveying violence as normal (granted that's an issue, but not the one I'm talking here) - I'm talking about the game actually causing something like brain damage, because the person has no BS filter. I mean brain damage in the same way as if you got a bit of wire and wiggled it about in someones head.

    If someones sitting there reading killed as killed when it's patently not killed, I'd say that's like a little piece of metal wire being slowly wiggled around in their brain. Yes, there's depicted violence in this issue too, but it's kind of a seperate topic.

    "We're *always* being rewired by what we take in. It's up to the individual to monitor and filter input"
    It doesn't really matter if it's up to them - if they aren't, in the millions, that's a huge pile of wreckage.

    Anyway, to start wrapping up on a brighter note, thanks for your posts, Tesh. :)