Why Online Play Is Great, And What We Might Learn From It

edited February 2007 in Play Advice
So the best game I've ever been in is online -- it's an Exalted game that I've been in for about a year now. There are a lot of reasons why it's the best game I've ever been in, like that we are all geniuses who love each other, but there are also some really important elements to its awesomeness that come directly from the fact that we play our game over IRC rather than in person. I was thinking about this and wondering if there was some way to adapt some of these positive qualities to tabletop play, so as to derive the same benefits without losing the benefits of being there.

So here are the benefits that are immediately obvious to me that online play has over tabletop play:

* The OOC Channel
The single most important advance in roleplaying games since the invention of fortune. Most online games have two channels -- one for events and actions in the narrative context, and one for discussion in the social context. This separation allows all kinds of formerly difficult interactions to take place. It eliminates all potential confusion involving declared actions and narration. By explicitly creating a space for discussion of play events as they occur, it enables direct and immediate analysis and explanation of character behavior, which itself fosters a higher level of interplayer communication and thus better gaming. By setting aside a corresponding space for play, which is empty except for play, it allows ritual engagement on a high level, while simultaneously providing a way for detached or detaching players to interact socially without breaking the ritual.

*The Log
No more losing the moment. No more forgetting what was discussed last session. No more wasted time on foreshadowing, intentional secrets, and character development that will all be forgotten by the time it starts to matter. Everything that hits the narrative is recorded, word-for-word, for all eternity. Having everything written down in black and white allows you to refresh yourself on events immediately and easily; having a long-term transcript allows you to observe the progress of a character through his development from a relatively third-person perspective. And finally, when you have that great moment that makes it worth playing, you really can share it with others.

*Input Chunking
Uh. Um. Er. Hold on. No wait.

Never hear these words again. Everything that hits the narrative space is fully formed when it gets there; the inevitable process of refining and reneging is invisible to the other players at the table, because they can't see what you say until you hit the return key. Change your mind about something midway? It never happened, and nobody knows you did it. Keeping the ritual space clear means keeping standards up means making play more awesome.


As you can see, these benefits mainly revolve around refining and preserving the ongoing narrative -- and they all rely on basic features of the medium. Are there any ways we can adapt the principles at work here to the medium of face-to-face play?

Comments

  • One of the things I highly recommend is using the posing feature of a lot of MUSH play as a way of helping frame your narration in TT. In other words, don't just act it out and speak your characters words, actually describe what your character is doing as though you were writing it in a novel (or graphic novel or whatever).

    As Andy said it:
    “Something I do at games when I’m a player is that I’ll state my emotions as if the other players were reading them in a book.

    ANDY: ” “What?”…I say that as a put on this incredulous face, while thinking of the implications of what Fragdor the Orc said to me earlier.”

    Like, I say that entire thing. If I can’t express the nuances like an actor supremo (and I can’t), I just show AND tell. At my last Con game I noticed one of the other players started picking up on it. It didn’t do anything huge to the direction or control of the game, but it at least gave a little more depth to the social action, and showed another tool for folks to use.”
    This is something that I always do in online play, that I think can totally be used to improve TT.

    Also, more sex.
  • Shreyas asked, "Brand, I'm not sure that you're talking about what you're talking about." It seemed to him that Brand was actually saying, it's a good idea to narrate what's going on in your character's head, and while he didn't disagree, that didn't really seem to be a technique that evolved naturally out of the tools online play provides, which seemed to be pigeon's thrust.

    He also noted, "I think the OOC channel is fairly easy to adapt to face-to-face play, Puppetland did it, maybe. Something about always standing up when you speak as yourself rather than your puppet." He didn't belabor the point with Mridangam.

  • edited February 2007
    I, too, love the OOC channel, and "input chunking" (nice bit of jargon, actually).

    It will be very difficult indeed to recreate these in tabletop. The closest I can think of at the moment is:

    1. Have a regular swap between IC and OOC phases - ie. have an OOC phase betwene each IC scene. Enforce reasonably strictly the dichotomy between the two. Effectively you are expanding via time what IRC lets you do by expanding into a different channel. You would need pretty quick swaps between the phases to retain anything like the level of immediate comment, but it would help to preserve the integrity of each part. It may even be a good idea to do them during scenes - perhaps analogous to a "Point Of Order" or "Time Out"? Have some gesture or signal which immediately sends the game into OOC mode, let people make their commentary, then resume with a corresponding signal.

    An extremly harsh mode (but interesting) might be to restrict all OOC chat to note passing, or (with laptops at the table) IMing.

    2. I suppose one could supply the record of play by recording the session, but I'm sceptical as to how well that actually works. Encourage someone to take notes, or all of you to do so (perhaps collaboratively, al la wiki) at the table? Tricky.

    3. Input chunking: ritualise the conversation. Embrace pauses as OK and not something that need to be filled right away. Encourage players to prepare their comments in advance (perhaps during OOC phases as mentioned).

    This is a very difficult problem.

    Sometimes I think the best of both worlds would be provided by doing voice chat over the net for the OOC stuff, and IRC text for the IC stuff.
  • Yeah, I tend to describe my actions and emotions in detail at the table, namely because I hate acting and am bad at it.

    As for imput chunking, I don't see how it's all that much of a blessing. How brutal is your GM that he won't let you take back a thought said out loud, or makes the crushing hand of fate slam down upon your character as soon as you mutter a word??
  • Posted By: kkrieggAs for imput chunking, I don't see how it's all that much of a blessing. How brutal is your GM that he won't let you take back a thought said out loud, or makes the crushing hand of fate slam down upon your character as soon as you mutter a word??
    I think it has a lot more to do with aesthetics and immersing in the narrative world than it does with some kind of 'oh no I didn't actually do that' problem like you describe. It doesn't matter how generously your GM lets you "take it back," it still breaks up the flow of the scene. In the online mode, time is sacrificed in advance in order to avoid that problem -- and it is significant time, on top of the usual slowdown that comes from players typing and the difficulty of concurrent conversation.
  • Posted By: Ice Cream EmperorIn the online mode, time is sacrificed in advance in order to avoid that problem -- and it is significant time, on top of the usual slowdown that comes from players typing and the difficulty of concurrent conversation.
    That's why I very much enjoy forum-based games (play-by-post) - they have the same advantages as described above, but do not require for all the players to be online at the same time. On one hand, it sacrifices even more time and you have to put significant effort into keeping the game's pace. On the other hand, you can easily game with people from around the world (e.g., I know a game where folks from The Netherlands, Russia, Japan and USA play together).

    I've been playing PBEM (play-by-e-mail) games since 1998 (well, it was more like play-by-Fido-netmail then, or even play-by-some-chunk-of-text-that-you-give-your-player-on-a-floppy-because-she-doen't-have-any-network-at-home), but forums allow for much better archiving and logging (as well as separating each character's actions).
  • Ugh. But PBP is sooooo slooooow. It makes me want to cry. And I'm constantly losing players due to the length of commitment. :(

    Shreyas, I think Brand's focus is less on narrating the character's thoughts and more on narrating the character's visible emotional cues, which is something that is mostly found in online play.
  • Related to some recent thoughts on Sin Asthetics about intimacy, another reason IRC is awesome: you don't have to look at each other. Much as I like to think of myself as a pretty uninhibited guy, there's a lto I'd be highly uncomfotable doing over a tabletop, or at least that I'd have a lot more difficulty taking seriously, that presents no problem over IRC.
  • MoMo
    edited March 2007
    Posted By: LudantoShreyas, I think Brand's focus is less on narrating the character's thoughts and more on narrating the character's visible emotional cues, which is something that is mostly found in online play.
    Mo nods emphatically as she reads down the posts in the Story Game forum. Looking a little sleepy headed, like she might have been up way too late gaming the day before, she nonetheless chews thoughtfully on her bottom lip and clicks the quote link.

    She types, meanderingly, "I'd add, to Josh and Brand's point, that there's a remarkable increase in the amount of non-verbal cues that I use to describe in the actions of my not-online table top characters since the mostly localized but intense body of time that I played on MUSHes. Use of tools like that are not only great in their context, but can actually be a great training device towards building greater exposition. For those people who have trouble, or who would prefer not to directly bringing the character's internal monologue to the table, this kind of physical space description can be extremely revelatory to fellow players and GM's. Also, the physical exposition used on MUSHes is a terrific way to make fully contributive painfully introverted characters to the game environment."

    She clicks on the "Add your comments" and nods once more before trundling off in search of very strong coffee.

    (Aside: I think revealing the thought process in text like Shreyas did above would be a really interesting thing to do in heated or complicated online discussions.)
  • edited March 2007
    One of my old gaming groups had an OOC hat. When you put it on, you were Out Of Character. This evolved into a gesture of placing your hand to your head ("putting on the hat"). It was an amusing way to differentiate the two types of communication and also acted as a kind of negative reinforcement for speaking out of character too often.

    pigeon, I have found IRC games very interesting, but I have this awful thing where I look at my fingers while typing (ther were no Mavis Beacon teachings for me), so by the time I've typed something in a chat, it is irrelevant. Maybe Vista's voice recognition software could be the cure!!! :)
  • Posted By: MoAlso, the physical exposition used on MUSHes is a terrific way to make fully contributive painfully introverted characters to the game environment.
    You and Brand are right on here; by forcing you to describe your physical maneuvering, IRC opens up a level of contribution to the game that is often really difficult to get in tabletop. I am reminded of Shreyas's Snow From Korea, in which one of the ways you can draw a card is to communicate nonverbally -- so if I give you a funny look at the table, and then I draw a card, you immediately know that that was an IN-CHARACTER funny look. It's a brilliant and subtle way to allow people to roleplay more physically by providing flags to make it clear when it's happening.
  • Posted By: orklordOne of my old gaming groups had an OOC hat. When you put it on, you were Out Of Character. This evolved into a gesture of placing your hand to your head ("putting on the hat"). It was an amusing way to differentiate the two types of communication and also acted as a kind of negative reinforcement for speaking out of character too often.
    That is very cool.

    pigeon, I have found IRC games very interesting, but I have this awful thing where I look at my fingers while typing (ther were no Mavis Beacon teachings for me), so by the time I've typed something in a chat, it is irrelevant. Maybe Vista's voice recognition software could be the cure!!! :)
    Really? I'm by no means a rapid typist, and I have to look at the keyboard, but I find the pace of IRC is usually such that I'm rarely rendered irrelevant before I finish. Especially, of course, when there's only two players in the scene.
  • Interesting stuff.

    I like chat play to the extent that I sometimes consider it superior to FTF play. I find that, more and more, I'm leaving FTF play for special occasions.

    I sometimes get the impression that the rate of the game moves as fast in IRC as it does in FTF. This is probably illusory. But in FTF play, I'm pretty slow. I like to think through the action, and make sure it's quality stuff. So I don't lose much speed in IRC.

    That said, I still get complaints that IRC is too slow. There is, of course, the fact that typing simply takes a while, even for people who are fast, and that it takes time to read. Maybe more importantly, people take a lesuirly pace, because there's no social cue saying "respond now!"

    The first thing we've done to combat this is to have multiple scenes going at once - more than one narration channel. This helps, but has the problem that if you have somebody participating in more than one scene, they become the choke point. In our play, that's me, since I'm "GMing" in every channel. Less troublesome when there's no NPC going, but I do have to monitor and stop play to do contests, and generally answer questions in OOC. So there's only so much you can gain by splitting scenes, unless the players are, essentially, capable of GMing themselves. In some cases we've had "auxiliary GMs" for just this purpose (Thomas Robertson in my HQ game, and Fred Volke less frequently).

    By taking a light touch as a GM, and with multiple scenes, I think we get nearly as much done in IRC as we get done in FTF play. Though I wish there were some way to more objectively measure this. Contests slow things down, so we tend to do less of them. That's not really slower, but it may sorta be "less" play in some fashion. But generally I think that the plot moves along at a nice clip. If any of my players can comment on that, a less biased opinion would be valueable.

    The question, to me, comes down to whether or not the quality that I think I get out of IRC is offset by any slowness of speed of play, and to what extent. Because otherwise, given the quality, I'm leaning towards IRC as the superior form of play.

    Mike
  • (Idea for a specialized online play tool: relative throttling settings available to moderators. Player B can only post 5 times for every 1 time Player A posts, Player C only 2 times, etc. Wouldn't work so well for asynchronous games (i.e. PBP) but in chat it might help people not get overwhelmed.)
  • Hmm. I'm sorta partial to the sink or swim method in some ways, but then again there are times when I've seen too many folks in a scene and things get hard to deal with.

    The key, for us, has been that we tend to split off into multiple scenes. When people do come together with lots of players in a single scene, what I have started to advocate is splitting them off again into pairs or smaller groups. It's as simple as saying, "X and Y step aside to speak privately" and then switching over to the new window. Players can come and go this way with relative ease. And the timing of the frame in and outs can be interesting as well.

    If you strictly limit post frequency, that's going to have problems (what if somebody really should be posing 6 times in a row?) What we do in terms of that sort of problem is to deal with it in the OOC channel. In fact, at times we have something like radio commo protocol where the player will post, say a conflict resolution, with several posts, and we know that they're finished when they come back to OOC with "Done."

    For IC posting, I also signal that I'm going to continue posting with an elisis or hyphen or something to indicate that the line is still ongoing (if everyone were programmers we might use an underscore, I suppose).

    Don't get me wrong, we still have train-wrecks occasionally. But they're as often cause by simultaneous posting or the like as by somebody posting more than somebody else.

    Mike
  • See, having folks leave the room to talk separately makes it that much more difficult for players to know what-all is happening... which is going to be fine for some players' tastes and less fine for others.

    I am interested in what sorts of advantages for existing games can be found, and what entirely new games could be created, by leveraging moderation tools. Conventional pass-the-conch moderation could give way to bidding for the conch, various ways of voting and gaming the moderation... all kinds of potentially interesting things.
  • edited March 2007
    In most MUSH play that follows normal conventions, rapid-fire posing is considered lame at a minimum, and in many cases will be considered cheating or abuse of the system. Posing twice in a row will only ever happen if a) someone accidentally enters the first pose due to a typo or b) they want to make a very quick correction or addition to the longer original pose. In trusted play groups, a player might rapid-pose in order to achieve an effect -- for example, stacking together multiple lines of quick dialogue to indicate a character who is babbling out of control. When I do things like this I usually prewrite all the poses into the buffer, so I can deliver them all with the exact/appropriate timing -- and close enough together that whoever is going to pose next will not be thrown off.

    Social convention varies on whether posing should follow a strict round-table order or should instead be more loosely regulated such that everyone poses approximately as often as everyone else. There are players who will get upset and/or make noise OOC if they are 'skipped' in the 'pose order.'

    I have little experience with IRC play -- I watched a Capes game once, that's it -- but my impression is that poses in IRC are much, much shorter than on a MUSH. The emphasis on regulating the order and amount of contributions becomes more important when everyone is expected to write something between 5 and 15 lines every time they narrate (edit: as in MUSH play) -- this not only makes multiple poses in a row that much more narratively-imbalancing, but makes the possibility of something obsoleting your narrative before you are able to get it out that much higher. And the only thing more frustrating than writing 10 carefully-wrought lines of narrative only to have someone make them totally irrelevant is having it happen multiple times in a row.
  • when everyone is expected to write something between 5 and 15 lines every time they narrate

    They aren't.

  • Posted By: shreyaswhen everyone is expected to write something between 5 and 15 lines every time they narrate

    They aren't.

    I think (and I'm really not sure) that Daniel meant that the expectation on a MUSH is to write 5 to 15 lines at a time, and hence strict attention to pose order (although I'm unfa,miliar with the exact meaning of "pose" in this context) is important. Wheras on IRC, shorter lines is the commonplace, and so strict attention to turn taking is less important.

    Daniel, could you clairfy?
  • Yes, sorry, I was talking about why these conventions were so prevalent in MUSH play -- contributions appear to be much longer than in the typical IRC session (like I said, I could be wrong about that.)

    A 'pose' is a single piece of narration -- in IRC terms, every time you hit enter you have just 'posed,' if that helps. Basically whenever you transmit a block of something via the medium to the other players. Poses are not limited to one thing happening, but players are expected not to chain events together indefinitely past a point at which other players/character would be likely to respond or interfere.
  • It has been a while since I played MUSHes (Patternfall, TrekMUSE) but we were never expected to pose more than a sentence or two.
  • Thank you Daniel, that cleared things up immensley.

    The problem of how much to narrate at once, when to narrate, and to what extent you take turns or otherwise signal who gets to narrate next, is one of the chief difficulties of online play. Things I'd like to see/try:

    * A signal that tells you when other players are typing. Many IM clients have something like this, alhough not usually particularly prominent.
    * A signal that tells you when someone is done narrating for now. There's a number of ways to handle this one:
    - Whenver you hit "enter" - that is, each person gets a single pose (although that may consist of many sentences of dialogue or gestures, etc.).
    - Have some kind of control character, like typing ">>" or something, indicating you're done.
    - Just stating "done" in the OOC channel.
    - Just guessing.
    * A method of determinign who gets to narrate next. You could ritualise this with strict turn taking, which may work with some games - indeed, the resolution systems of some games may demand a strict, specific structure (Dogs In The Vineyard, say) to your narration. You can just agree on a turn-sequence, as Daniel says he saw in MUSHes. You can have a free-for-all, which may lead to people narrating over the top of one another, but equally may be more appropriate to the structure of the scene.

    i don't think that any of these sytems are perfect, but I do think that the approach that any given game takes to each needs examining and thinking about. And I'd like to try out some of the more ritualised modes, or a system of signals, in an actual game.
  • One of the reasons I like DitV so much is because of that explicit turn-taking structure, Thomas. With the right tools it's an ideal online game.
  • We play mostly two player scenes. So it's usually pretty apparent when its time to narrate. The cues are pretty obvious. And, yeah, short stuff.

    What do you suppose caused that MUSH group to develop the requirement for fifteen lines at a time? Why not fire them off one at a time? Because folks would think that your turn was over? Whacky.

    There are a few techniques I've picked up. In addition to saying you're done explicitly in OOC, you can ask folks if they're done. This can get tiresome, however, as you have to wait for a reply, and they might miss it. So, often not wanting to do this, instead I'll post when I'm not sure if the other side is posting back. This is not so bad as it sounds, because knowing that there's a possibility that the other side will be responding you can fashion your post to be agnostic to their reply.

    For example, I'll often post atmosphere comments at complete random. This doesn't seem to have much affect at all on the flow of things.

    Player A: Bill says, "Hi."
    Mike: The night is sultry.
    Player B: John replies, "Oh, hi."

    Or the action happens to work for most any response I'm likely to get from the other person, whether it hits before or after.

    Player A: Bill says, "Hi, how are you?"
    Mike: Frank replies in kind.
    Player A: "I've been looking forward to seeing you," he continues.

    Works as well a:

    Player A: Bill says, "Hi, how are you?"
    Player A: "I've been looking forward to seeing you," he continues.
    Mike: Frank replies in kind.

    Even more than that, however, I frankly am not all about making great artwork. If something comes off a tad out of order, and reads all post-modern, as long as everyone gets the drift, I don't think it's a problem. Oh, if it's really bad, we'll retcon it. But that's pretty rare.

    Mike
  • Posted By: Mike HolmesWhat do you suppose caused that MUSH group to develop the requirement for fifteen lines at a time? Why not fire them off one at a time? Because folks would think that your turn was over? Whacky. [...]

    Even more than that, however, I frankly am not all about making great artwork. If something comes off a tad out of order, and reads all post-modern, as long as everyone gets the drift, I don't think it's a problem.
    So yeah, the second quoted bit points to the answer to the original question. The culture of longer and longer poses is the result of people wanting to show off, and also of an aesthetic that prizes attention to detail and extremely subtle approaches to characterisation and dialogue. Much mockery is strewn about when people spend an entire paragraph describing how their character smokes his cigarette -- but on the other hand, a paragraph about how someone smokes his cigarette could turn out to be fun to write and read. But yeah, these players are interested in trying to produce something of a different quality, whether it be 'art' or just some kind of overwrought, endless novel. I would say that one of the idealized goals is complete verisimilitude, where every detail of every moment of the character is fully realised in chronological order. I'm not saying anyone would come out and say that's what they're after -- and in fact they might say the opposite -- but it's an ideal that absolutely affects how people narrate. And it's remarkably different than the approach taken by most TT games. The concept of aggressive scene framing is totally alien to the MUSH play I'm talking about.

    I do want to clarify that I am not talking about everyone who MUSHes, everywhere, just the populations that I'm familiar with and was a part of when I played. There are places where much shorter poses are the norm, though I have yet to encounter anywhere where rapid-fire posing is considered a good thing.
  • Yeah, one-line posing in my MUSHing experience sort of denoted someone who probably wasn't worth playing with (snobby, I know). And oftentimes people would be fishing for others in the same 'room' to begin roleplaying with them, so people would strut their stuff and peacock it up with the florid writing in order to look interesting and to promote interaction. You could have six people sitting in a bar, posing self-indulgently and not really communicating with each other.

    When people were interacting in a scene with each other, there was an unspoken rule that you basically take turns with everyone else active in the scene and wait for them to pose. Sometimes this could take a long time but the alternative was one or two yappy people talking over everyone else as people frantically tried to type a decently written reply. My tabletop groups, which often end up being survival of the loudest, could probably take a lesson from MUSHland here.
  • ICE's experience matches mine, which is no surprise as we are old MU* buds from way back in the day.

    I posted a thread on a MU* forum that is somewhat of the opposite of this thread, you may have to register to read it, so I'll put in a bit of an excerpt up front.

    WORA thread: Hippy Games & MU*ing
    Posted by Me on WORAIn the translation from tabletop games to MU*s, basically the same structure is kept. There's a staff which is responsible for plots and players who are responsible for characters. The realities of shitty staff members, favoritism, and time zones has always made this a fucking stupid idea but the realities of shitty players has made sure that nobody has ever tried anything different.

    Nearly all MU* players who are not Jotun do some narration themselves despite this division of labor. When you go into a bar and pose the bartender bringing you a beer, you are narrating. Sometimes particularly maniacal, biased or stupid staff members don't even like this happening. (Crescent City, Escalus, ah, the good old days. Ahem.) But people are mostly pretty okay with it.

    In some themes like superhero games, it's encouraged that people go out and emit scenes but very rarely is there ever any actual support for doing this. Crucible City came up with +villain which lists a set of pre-statted badguys for anyone to control and go beat up with lasers. Several D&D places have PRP (player-run plot) code that helps people put things together. When I was messing about with Marvel Knights I came up with a system by which plot hooks could be stored and then investigative scenes could be improvised with people making up facts about the underlying mystery, until it's solved. All these systems have one major problem in common that makes it so that they're all complete failures. Only about one in thirty players actually like to emit things. Everyone else, be they shitty players or good players, just likes to sit there and play along. After all, if they wanted to emit things, they'd join a staff somewhere and get a superpowered staffalt and TS with big boobed seventeen year olds. (I know, "that's so 1997, Jason".)

    I don't know if the newfangled narration-passing hippy games that have been published in the last few years are the solution to this, it may very well be that the dwindling number of people willing to sit and write out scenes to play is an insurmountable problem. And it may very well be that the number of psychotic shitty players is so overwhelming that any further attempt to open the avenue to player improvisation and narration will result in a hobby so eye-gougingly bad that anyone with any sense will flee for the doors and we'll all be playing World of Warcraft by 2010. But I'm going to proceed in this topic as if those two difficulties didn't exist. I'm fucking tired of games organizing themselves by what people fear shitty players might do. Even if shitty players play by a set of very strict rules, they're still shitty. I say just kick shitty players off your game, don't give a reason, just say "you're a shitty player" and get rid of them. But that's another topic.

    I definitely think there's something to be said for going back to the beginning - why did anyone EVER think that the standard tabletop setup would be a good one for a MU*? Because we were all stupid. The sheer number of players alone should have told us it wouldn't work. Add that into the fact that the players are never all on at the same time, that staffers can't be expected to handle more than a specific area (sphere) and that record-keeping of what is actually happening is pathetic at the best of times and you come to the inescapable conclusion that people who thought "Hey, let's have a WoD game with a hundred players on it" and then went "oh my gosh, this is a shitty game, how did that happen?" are complete morons.
  • Oh, uh, and TS = tinysex, sex via MU*.

    Here was my conclusion regarding each of the story games I analyzed for MU* play:

    Donjon: Advantage: it gives very specific guidelines about what can be narrated or decided on by players, it only relates to the skills/abilities of the characters, the rest is handled by a DM.

    Disadvantage is that it relies very heavily on having been in the eighth grade in 1988 and playing a ton of old school D&D, and really isn't much of a change from the standard staff-and-players situation.

    Dust Devils: Advantages for MU* play - getting to see who narrates is a fun game in and of itself rather than 900 people sitting in an OOC room trying to figure out who is willing to do something, and the narration comes in small chunks. Nobody has to narrate all afternoon long, it's just for a pose or three.

    Disadvantage for MU* play - the character arc is tightly built into the game and would be hard to remove. I could definitely see the fun in playing a character you knew was going to be gone (or at the very least drastically different) in 3-4 months but I don't know that everyone else would like that. On the other hand, fuck it, how often is your game still open, active and fun after 4 months? Pretty rare, right?

    Primetime Adventures (I had previously shitted up another thread talking about how awesome it was so I kept it short) Advantages: As with Dust Devils, there's strict limitations on what you can improv when it's your turn, either by the nature of the show, or in the case of scene-pitching, the direct questions you have to answer. This encourages fucking awesome improv, so does the fan mail mechanic. If you aren't getting fan mail you know you suck and should do something different.

    Disadvantages: The screen presence of characters (spotlight, important, supporting) doesn't seem to me to be able to scale up to a game with dozens of players, a dozen or twenty of which are on randomly at any given time. It also still requires someone to be the Producer and establish strongly the boundaries of the show and episode and scene or else the improv dies.

    I also wrote a narration-sharing system myself for mysteries/crime plots, I'll put that in another post to see what people think.
  • edited March 2007
    Plot Repository Idea from Marvel Knights MU*

    I was the crime wizard on the short-lived too-sandboxy Marvel Knights MU*, which focused on crimefighting a la Daredevil, the Spidey-verse, and so on. This was the idea I came up with to help people get involved with mysteries and crimefighting without having to hang around and bother a staffer.

    On a wiki or a forum or somewhere player-writeable, a staffer would create a ton of plot hooks like so:
    Break-in at jewelry store
    High-priced lawyer shows up for small-time crook
    Mayor may be taking bribes
    A witness changes their testimony during a trial
    A popular figure is not what they seem
    Then players who were sitting in the OOC room bored (say, an FBI agent and a costumed vigilante) could page through and pick one they like, say, the mayor taking bribes.

    They play out a scene where they determine (through bugging, beating up goons, whatever) that the bagman for the bribes is a retired city councilman with ties to the mafia.

    They go back to the repository and that entry now looks like:
    Mayor may be taking bribes. Bagman for bribes is Joe Blow, retired city councilman, cousin to Steve Blow, mafia capo.
    Then other players add onto it and add onto it, maybe Joe Blow is discovered dead and a CSI dude and someone from the NYPD has a scene about it and it looks like:
    Mayor may be taking bribes. Bagman for bribes is Joe Blow, retired city councilman, cousin to Steve Blow, mafia capo. Joe Blow was killed with a .38 revolver on Thursday night. Mayor was at a fund-raiser, Steve Blow was at a restaurant, the shooter was someone else.
    Eventually someone will want to resolve the scene, they just have to take into account everything that's been done so far:
    Mayor may be taking bribes. Bagman for bribes is Joe Blow, retired city councilman, cousin to Steve Blow, mafia capo. Joe Blow was killed with a .38 revolver on Thursday night. Mayor was at a fund-raiser, Steve Blow was at a restaurant, the shooter was someone else. The shooter was Tony Blow, after being busted by Superdude, he gave up Steve as the one who gave the order, the Mayor has resigned in disgrace and faces federal charges.
    The advantage of this is that it leaves a paper trail. You never have to worry "what the fuck, am I just uselessly replicating someone else's work on this mystery" or "good christ if this is a red herring after all the work I've put into it I am just going to shoot myself". AND you get to make things up that you yourself don't know. If you gave me a CSI kit and pointed me at a crime scene, I would not know what to do. But if I'm playing a CSI guy with this system, I can show off how awesome I am by finding a mysterious fingerprint through chemical means (or whatever) without knowing anything about fingerprints or chemicals. Because that's my contribution to the mystery.

    The disadvantage is, if the fun of mysterious stuff to you is OOCly discovering what someone else has thought up, this will not scratch that itch.
  • JD, awesome info. I've had only the briefest of contacts with the MU community, and an outsider's insight is just not good enough.

    In my extremely biased opinion, the problems that the MU form encounters that you're trying to solve for are an issue of the format more than anything else. No, not the client software which can be quite helpful when used right. The real trouble is that 900 people in a room are not an organized social activity, they are a mob. What this semi-massively multiplayer format doesn't get is that RPGs are only really functional when they are social exercises. All RPGs, even heavily gamism ones. Gamism does have the slight advantage that you can create overall social feedback mechanisms related to gross self-esteem by something like a score. If you're at the top of the scoreboard, at least you get a kick out of that. But, even then, the other players will only be gunning for you, not at all really supporting your play.

    To some extent RPG play works best when there's collaboration based on the players (not the characters) understanding what the other players are attempting. In the MUs there is a tendency for smaller subgroups to form, no? Little social circles? These are an attempt by players to create that needed social feedback mechanism.

    The trouble is that there's this aesthetic of a "Second World" where we don't want to break immersion and speak out of character, etc. The worst cases of this are when real players will conduct their conversations with each other and still remain in character! The internet provides the ability of players to be anonymous to each other in a very real way, even when you're interacting with somebody. What's to prevent somebody from just dropping out of a game in a MU situation? Almost nothing. Compare to a FTF game where everyone has made a committment to play. Yes people still drop out of these, but they typically need a pretty good excuse.

    There are no shitty players, only RPG set ups that don't promote playing well together. Yes, some players can overcome this lack of good system and social contract by merely building their own on the spot. But if you give them a good system to play by, they mostly become better players. That includes forcing them into a social context. That requires getting to actually know the player. Not some online persona either, but the actual player who has an address and a day job and friends and family.

    And that's just not going to happen with 900 people. With 900 people, the majority of them are going to seem like "shitty players." Because they can get away with it.

    Now, that said, I'd hope, too, that people don't have to be compelled to play the game in question. Drop outs happen in FTF games, mostly when the game is interminable. This is the other factor of the "Second World" problem. How can you expect anyone to have the time to actually be able to have a whole second life? Do you ever get the sense that those people who do make it work have no primary life? Not to propagate a stereotype, but the phenomenon is a growing one.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori

    I've got an open mind, but I'm pretty sure that it's not too judgmental to say that this is a problem. Put another way, the normal people are the ones who drop out because they cannot sustain interest in something that has no goal other than as a recreation activity. Especially when, unlike playing tennis with a friend once a week, you're not getting social feedback from the people you're playing with.


    I have empirical proof of this. My IRC HeroQuest game has been ongoing weekly for a few years now (started in 2003, IIRC). And it has continued for a few reasons, I think:

    1. We accept any player. That is I have new players starting all the time. But the ones that end up staying a long time are the ones that get to know the other players (including myself) socially. Those that don't bother don't end up staying long. And that's fine, because those that do join the group socially end up staying a long time. Some of the socially adapted people do eventually drop out (they need to move on to something else, or I'm not GMing well for them, their schedule changes, or whatever). But we get new players that stick at about the same rate.

    2. Attendance is not mandatory. People come and go as they please. We play around absent characters simply by using author stance. That is, it's only problematic that a character isn't available to play in most cases if you think purely in terms of "Well, my character would go looking for them now" instead of, "well, since they're not here, my character decides that now is the time to do this other thing he's been putting off." If a character seems to have been more permanently dropped, I play them as an NPC. How do I know? Because, due to the social aspect, people actually tell me when they're dropping out. It would be rude of them not to do so. I don't have to ask people to inform me, they just do.

    3. The game is not interminable. That is we play in "phases" where it's assumed that masses of plots will come to a conclusion all at about the same time, whereupon there's a chance to create new characters if one likes, or have them age, etc. There was a 20 year in-game gap between the last phase, and the current one. Only six months from the one prior to that. In this way there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and breaks where things can get substantively shaken up. If you will, it's actually a new "campaign" each phase.


    I really do understand the urge to have the whole virtual otherworld thing going on. But outside of the MMORPG model (with it's attendant problems), I think that getting the sort of fun that one gets in TT play is impossible in this model. As further proof, the Living Cities model is like a MMFTFRPG. And, though it's kept afloat by RPGA support, I've rarely heard good things about it. Mostly people seem to try it out, intrigued by the concept, and then realize that it's not quite what it's cracked up to be, and then they drop out.

    That's admittedly based on limited annecdotal evidence, but that's all we've got here. It stands to reason, however.

    It is possible to foster an actual social environment for small-scale groups online (an argument I had with Liam recently about using real names is actually proof that we're being social, and can discuss such things, even if he disagreed with the name principle). You use a format that makes socializing in play difficult at your own risk. With the social glue in place, you can have a game online that is at least as durable as a FTF game.

    Mike
  • The 'don't talk OOCly' thing is not an issue most of the places I play. In fact the opposite is the problem - too many people just hang around the OOC room yakkin' while no game happens for days or even weeks on end. But you're dead on target about the lack of social organization.

    I think the future of MU*s is in some sort of 'phases' like you describe, where there's a certain amount of things that get done and then it's done, you're doing something different next time. The issue I see is that the 'log in any time you want' rule, which is not really a rule on MU*s, just a fact of reality, makes this a big gamble.

    "Hi, welcome to our MUX, feel free to make a character. By the way, you only get to play it for five days, during which time you'll have a maximum of five scenes. Then that phase is over."
    "Great, thanks, I can tell it will be worth the effort."
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