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Discussion in 'UHall' started by Vlaude, Feb 28, 2011.
Use for discussion of the exquisite corpse thread so people like Cal_Mythic don't mess up the flow.
The sticky thread at the top of the page. It's an ongoing story... this thread can be used for off topic posts, such as Cal's most recent one.
I wanted to write a relatively long response to the concept of the Exquisite Corpse experiment, and fortunately this thread has been opened where I can do so without distorting further the experiment itself. It's going to be a difficult issue to address, so I apologize in advance for any discomfort it may cause in certain quarters... but that is kind of the point I'm afraid.
To begin then; the reason why such fictional plotting is so, so hard to pull off in interactive media. In a novel say, the story you wish to see unfold is the one that you're presented with, it's Billy Bob and His Boys and you're there to watch the ride. Your enjoyment and attention to the book is defined by how well you either treat the protagonist as a reader-substitute, or are interested in the ups and downs and scenery of the ride you're given.
But in computer gaming, there's no reader substitute effect at all... the hero is you. And other characters exist only via their definition with regards to your actions; Lord British in Ultima history is certainly Iconic for instance, but he's absolutely not well characterised. He's basically a bit British, and a lot Royal, and that's it; It's back-of-a-cigarette-packet stuff really. But the players remember him because he's either the source of, or acknowledgement of their own goals and successes in game... or because he's a short cut to symbolizing their own creativity, cf: all the ways to kill Lord British, and by extension, Richard Garriott in game.
Now Ultima Online has never really managed to grasp this problem; it's tried to lead with strong NPC characters as the support for story arcs, but failed to realise a character is only as strong as it's ability to be a cypher for the players concerns; in the case of Dawn, much of the dissatisfaction was to do with the concept that if the crown and the realm and the people are one, are we really happy to be considered a bunch of bumbling blonde buffoons, as she was in much of her characterisation? However, if Dawn had personally led the battles for each Bane Invasion now, for instance, it wouldn't matter if she never had a word scripted for her; you'd see her fighting, lose when she lost too, and would automatically transfer your emotional associations too her to... Assuming of course you fought against the Bane! I shall return to this later though, as there's a more important point I wish to make first regarding character led design in the MMO world.
And it's one that the current "Corpse" has already highlighted, sadly. I posted one submission in the thread before instantly getting disgusted with the way the idea was developing... And I don't mean this as exaggeration I'm afraid. The reason for such a visceral response is that there's a difference between an "Exquisite Corpse" as an attempt to create Art-By-Committee, and people simply attempting to stamp their own personality and wishes on something, to make it theirs; and if it can't be theirs entirely, to wish to see it destroyed.
In this case, Watchertoo's post immediately ran a red flag up for me; the reason was it had straight out of the gate narrowed down the action to both a named individual, and a particular area of role play... in this case, an interest in anthropomorphic play. The individual sounded like an author-substitute rather than a part of Ultima lore, but to be sure I googled the name "Claire Elizabeth"; and if this is the correct one, it's at least understandable as to why someone might want to pay tribute to the name...
... What wasn't understandable was why anyone thought this would be a good idea when other people were going to have an input as to who she was, and what would happen to her. Already "Claire Elizabeth" has been "Pimp slapped into next week", both as a description and literally as she's now been bounced through time. Already the story is devolving into a tussle as people try and define, or destroy that individual. It's pretty depressing really.
And harsh as it is to say, "Claire Elizabeth" herself has been given a set of interests that, if I have found the actual source, she could never have chosen for herself; it's literally putting words into the mouth of a dead child. Forgiveable maybe, if done with love. Entirely predictable other's will try and warp it, especially when they have no constructive voice of their own. You just know someone is sitting there thinking in turn "No way the star of the show is gonna be a damn Furry..."
Ahh yes; "Furries". One of the reasons why they (and of course any other fetishist in the literal sense of the word, I've met many others but that's not a topic for a family board!) are so often the butt of internet jokes is because there's a tendency within a small sub group of that community to bring their interest in that topic into the forefront of everything. Let us call them the "Militant" faction for now. And because it's such a personal subject, any criticism of that topic when it's raised, and it will be raised constantly, quickly changes the atmosphere into a life-or-death struggle between people who believe they are fighting about important meta-issues... whilst alienating, or driving out everyone else who may be there for quite unrelated reasons.
And thus in real life, the reason we (at least try to!) have an overarching superstructure of laws and regulations and yes compromises is because, unchecked, people are appallingly bad judges of how to leave space for other other people to live alongside them. That's why in public we have tolerance and opportunities for all... but private members clubs are still allowed to set their own rules below that; if you go through the Club's doors, you're assumed to be consenting to the rules. The same needs to hold true in game design for an MMO too; because you're always going to have people coming in from wildly differing doors. Even a single player game is going to have at least one common assumption; they'll side with the protagonist. You can't assume that in Ultima Online.
My own contribution to the "Corpse" for instance was designed to try and show how you should apply that principle to Ultima Online; it doesn't matter what the "pets" really are; what matters is what players get to do with them. This would require there being plenty to go around, then...
However, even the simplest of quests will, if the results are visible, keep people engaged because it's their story to follow. They are in one sense then, the Members Clubs. What games like WoW etc get right (even if it's not edifying) is that almost everything has a little bar you can see creeping up. People aren't keen on the Fishing quests because it's slow and boring and grindy yes, but they really aren't doing it because they don't love Fishing enough, but because the rewards for doing so are not opaque enough in our game; it's hard to think the Fishmongers "like" you when he gives you an order for 10 Poopfish again. The "Rules On The Door" aren't clear at all. However, the Community quests in the Library were farmed to heck because you could see the points and knew when the reward was coming. You didn't have to do them of course... but if you did, you knew what you'd be getting. Stick a "Only XXX Gold To Go!" sign outside Magincia and that will soon be placed back up again... ask the lumberjacks to chop the wood for it and the smiths to forge new guard rails and so forth and people will even say "That's my city that is!" I still have runes to the Plague Trees I personally cured back when Yew as becoming a swamp; the trees are long gone now, but that was my work.
I mentioned elsewhere, the Bane-Ophidian battles were very well designed in that sense, because the front line literally moves dependent on your efforts; the later town invasions are absolutely not, because no one really feels connected with the fight (and there's mobs impossible to solo for many templates which, like it or not, is a big negative to UO's playerbase as it is now). If Virtue Bane and the deceased Dawn were on the field, they'd be part of the reflected glory or infamy yes...but it's a lot easier to get past ham-fisted characterisation when the player has had a good time in the actual fight.
I'm not saying I have all the answers of course; and both Trebr Drab and Cal himself have discussed this interestingly here... but I think focusing so much interest in how to correctly plot an event is missing the point; we're critiquing the plot because there's very little else for us to do. When we actually do get our hands on the plot, even in the most well intentioned cases, the final results are often much less edifying to witness.
Ive done this kind of thing a few times in forums for relatively well known authors on seasonal stories. Nothing for publication mind you just interested fans seeing what they can collectively produce. A theme was presented and some very basic key components introduced and agreed to. All participants were order selected by lottery, with opening and closing additions generally contributed by very successful prior participants.
That worked very well. The thought of having two plot lines, one completely divergent from the beginning by using the opening "meanwhile" is, well, its sad. I will continue to watch and make contributions where I can and perhaps introduce some levity of my own.
Lol. Perhaps you don't roam around Sosaria much, but there are a lot of "meanwhiles" going on. It's also a common storytelling device. The point wasn't to forget about the beginning plot, but to eventually have the two plots converge to form a cohesive whole. But of course I can't control that and other people contribute as they see fit. Try not to get too upset about it. If that part of the story gets ignored that's fine and I'll contribute in other ways.
Upset? No. Disappointed? Yes a bit. Surprised, no not really at all.
Perhaps you don't travel around the world much, but there are a lot of meanwhiles happening all the time everywhere. The point of a story especially in a writing exercise like this one is specifically to constrain oneself to developing what has gone before with consistancy.
Its story telling, its supposed to be fun, and creative. But it is also a collaborative effort and that implies respect for the project and all the other contributors as well.
Some of the other projects I've been involved in had raw writers, first time contributors who overcame their fears of putting their stuff out there. Some of them did very very well, some of them not so much but that was just fine. We did it to completion together and everybody contributed and no one stepped on anyone elses toes. That's what the collaboration is all about, the group result.
I don't like the god modding of other characters, making decisions for someone else's character that they have no control over.
Attempting to do something so the character can respond, is good interaction; deciding for them what happens is disrespectful, and breaks the flow of the story.
Well, that's a problem but once you drop "your" character into a collaborative story where we have been asked to use characters listed within rather than everyone everywhere introduce their own (aaarrgh what a nightmare) then they are no longer anymore your character than the story is your story.